Tuesday, July 15, 2008

L Sprague de Camp's "A Gun for Dinosaur" (novelette, time travel, free): Description of flora & fauna of Cretaceous period

Quote from short story titled A Gun for Dinosaur by L Sprague de CampWhen introducing this story, David Drake tells us that "Men-against-dinosaur stories are as old as magazine SF... de Camp turned what had been occasional subjects for stories into defined subgenres." Well, there is an earlier Arthur Clarke's "Time's Arrow", but it's still an interesting story.

Story summary.

It's a frame story - main dinosaur hunting story described in the small outer frame. Mr Rivers, a hunter who's partner in the time travel safari outfit named "Rivers and Aiyar", is giving an anecdote to Mr Seligman, a prospective client Rivers is refusing to take because he weighs too little. Rest of this post is about the main story.

Main story is of a hunt. Human time travelers go to "April twenty-fourth, eight-five million B.C." in Cretaceous period. To hunt dinosaurs for fun! They will spend several days there. There is also a short thread of an accident after their return - but I won't get into that.


The most interesting thing for me was meticulous attention to detail when describing local environment during a certain part of Cretaceous: local terrain; animals, insects & flying creatures; weak points of different kinds of dinosaurs from a hunter's perspective; best strategy to escape when a dinosaur is after you; ... I've no idea if these descriptions are based on known facts, or solely the author's imagination; but they put life into the story.

The story has it flaws, some of them due to my personal biases:
  1. I grew up in a family where consciously killing any kind of life is taboo. Hunting stories are not really the kind I go for.
  2. There is colonial era here - "sahibs", interactions among the characters, their biases & value systems, ... It's not very often that I can like stories set in that period.
  3. It's not always a logical story. You take an expensive trip to cretaceous & won't do your own work; you carry with you a staff like cook & helpers!
  4. Some rather obnoxious characters. Courtney James, one of the clients on safari, will kill anything that moves for the shear thrill of using his gun! August Holtzinger, the other client, is out hunting so he can hang the stuffed head of the killed animal in his drawing room!

    Note: Holtzinger is killed by a tyrannosaur during safari when trying to save life of a cornered James. James dies by the end of the story because, well, because bad boys die in good stories!
But for me, the details of local environment made up for all its flaws. Beautiful story.

See also.

I've posted on at least 3 other stories on similar themes:
  1. Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder" is a far less rigorous version of the same plot.
  2. Arthur Clarke's "Time's Arrow" is an interesting variant.
  3. Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park", of course, puts things upside down - by bringing dinosaurs to our time rather than humans going to their time.

Collected in.

  1. David Drake, Jim Baen, & Eric Flint (Ed)'s "The World Turned Upside Down".
  2. "The Best of L Sprague de Camp".

Fact sheet.

First published: Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1956.
Rating: A
Download full text or MP3. This post is based on text version; I've not heard the audio.