Friday, May 15, 2009

Five uses for dinosaurs in fantasy

Since I’ve already done butterflies

1. As mounts

Many dinosaurs would make very good steeds. Some species of raptor, for instance, are large enough to carry a human as well as being fast. Selective breeding and domestication could take care of their more dangerous weapons and weed out predator traits, or you could come up with an entirely new species that keeps the general form but eats vegetation.

Then there are pterosaurs for air travel and plesiosaurs for sea voyages. And maybe once the first-class seats on the T. rex’s back are full, people have to travel economy class in its mouth.

2. As architectural inspirations

In China Mieville’s New Crobuzon, a settlement called Bonetown is built within the skeleton of some unidentified giant creature. The same thing could be done with the skeleton of a dinosaur, although I’d take steps to differentiate it from Mieville’s.

For instance, the bones themselves could be modified or reinforced, turning the spinal column into a pseudo-subway tunnel or the horns of a Triceratops into towers. Or a saillike structure similar to a Dimetrodon’s could be used to regulate temperatures (the large surface areas of those absorbed heat). To take it one step further, perhaps they could absorb magical energy as well.

3. As time-travel devices

When I was little younger, I used to imagine that the dinosaur skeletons in museums came to life at night, when no one was around, and enjoyed themselves. It just seemed unfair that these magnificent creatures were no longer alive.

But maybe they could be, in the past. Maybe that’s the only way dinosaurs can live again, by going back millions of years (and taking you with them, if you happen to be close enough). It doesn’t last long, because they return to the present, to bones and dust by dawn.

But while it lasts, the dinosaurs walk the earth once more.

4. As were-creatures

I wouldn’t mind being a were-velociraptor or a were-deinonychus – basically anything small, fast, maneuverable and sharp-toothed. Maybe there’s a lot of conflict between the packs of mammalian were-creatures and reptilian ones, sort of an evolutionary version of the Jets and the Sharks.

5. As an intelligent species

I bought Eric Garcia’s Anonymous Rex because it dealt with intelligent dinosaurs living secretly and successfully among modern-day humans, and I had to see how the story pulled that off. Unfortunately the dinosaurs were too well-integrated; there wasn’t much to distinguish them from humans, such as a very different culture.

On the other hand, Harry Harrison’s West of Eden features the Yilane, the equally intelligent descendants of dinosaurs, doing their best to wipe out Cro-Magnon humans. The level of thought that’s gone into the Yilane biology and culture is staggering – as just one example, nearly all the Yilane tools and instruments are organic. They’re living creatures that have been genetically modified to, for instance, produce heat (so they’re used as blankets).

The only thing I don’t like about these books is that the humans win, and the only good Yilane is a Yilane who recognizes the humans’ equality/superiority. We already have one world where the dinosaurs no longer rule; why do we need another?


Dawn Wilson said...

Hm, #3 had me thinking of Jurassic Park, Timeline and Night at the Museum. :) It also had me cooking up an MG story along those lines. but, of course, it is YOUR idea and I'm curious to see where you go with these suggestions. And they ARE great suggestions, BTW. :)

rosemerry said...

Oh dinosaurs. It's kinda a hobby for me so I found your post entertaining.

I watched Anonymous Rex on the Sci-Fi channel. It was cute and campy. Definitely not a serious flick but interesting. Then again, my fiance says that my taste in movies has a lot to be desired.

Khajidu said...

In my fantasy world, I have iguanodons and triceratopses as mounts, protoceratopses for pulling charges and velociraptors as pets, pest control and guard animals. Smaller avian dinosaurs are also used as pets.

JH said...

6) Tapping the lucrative "5 year old child" and "5 year old child at heart" markets. :)

Marian Perera said...

Everything's cooler with dinosaurs, big guy. ;)

JH said...

My comment wasn't a snark at all. Everyone thinks dinosaurs are cool when they're kids, and some people never stop thinking they're cool, and that's A-OK! (I'm one of them.)

Marian Perera said...

Hey, there's nothing wrong with writing to make money. :)

But I was just kidding (using the "everything's better with ninjas/princesses/etc" for dinosaurs). I wonder if there's anyone out there who thinks dinosaurs aren't cool.

Anonymous said...

These really are fantastic ideas. I especially like the one of using plesiosaurs for sea voyages. Could make a great adventure story.

Marian Perera said...

Hi rosemerry,

I read one or two of the sequels to Anonymous Rex, but now that I try to remember details, nothing comes to mind. Didn't know it had been filmed, though. I'll look that up on YouTube.

Marian Perera said...

Hey Tasha,

Harry Harrison's take on aquatic dinosaurs used to cross oceans was extremely cool. IIRC, the Yilane actually traveled in special compartments within the larger, genetically engineered dinosaurs' bodies, so they stayed warm and safe with plenty of oxygen.

Sort of a living reptilian submarine. I don't think I've ever come across anything else like that in speculative fiction.

Randall said...

In Michael A. Stackpole's Dragoncrown War Cycle, one of the creatures is the Frostclaw, a kind of feathered velociraptor. They're from the North, so Stackpole must have been going with the "warm-blooded" hypothesis.