For 140 million years, dinosaurs ruled the Earth. At the end of the Cretaceous period, approximately 65 million years ago, they went extinct. The mystery behind their disappearance continues to confound scientists to this day. One of the most popular theories is that a colossal asteroid impact with the Earth killed them all off. Another postulates a global climatic change that rendered the environment inhospitable. There are many other theories, but the very fact that we don't know what happened to the dinosaurs perhaps helps account for their popularity, and why science fiction writers and fans seem to be so enamored with them.
Speculative fiction about dinosaurs usually falls into one of the following categories:
Time Travel: Scientists or explorers travel back in time to observe or hunt dinosaurs (i.e., "A Gun for Dinosaur" by L. Sprague de Camp, "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury).
Rebirth: Dinosaurs are brought back to life by scientific means, usually cloning or genetic engineering (i.e., Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, "Trembling Earth" by Allen Steele); or, in some cases, drastic environmental shifts pave the way for dinosaurs to live again (The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard).
Xenosaurs (dinosaurid aliens): Stories about dinosaur-like aliens or alien races descended from dinosaurs (i.e. The Quintaligo Ascension trilogy by Robert J. Sawyer, The Homecoming by Barry Longyear).
Lost World: Isolated ecosystems on Earth are found where dinosaurs still exist (i.e., The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs).
In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who is mostly known today for being the creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote The Lost World, which is considered the first significant fictional work about dinosaurs. Some, however, may argue that credit should be given to Jules Verne, who published, in 1864, Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is the first novel to incorporate prehistoric animals into the text. Though not about dinosaurs per se, Journey does include a battle between two enormous reptiles that closely resemble dinosaurs.
Despite all the new discoveries in paleontology, dinosaur SF hasn't changed much over the years, and so much of the fiction written decades ago remains very readable today. This sub-genre continued to gain popularity throughout the 20th century as paleontologists made new discoveries about dinosaurs, and perhaps hit its peak in 1993 when the film version of Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park was released.
For further reading about dinosaur fiction, I recommend the following: Starring T. Rex: Dinosaur Mythology and Popular Culture by Jose Luis Sanz (tr. Philip Mason), 2002, Indiana University Press; and The Last Dinosaur Book by W. J. T. Mitchell, 1998, University of Chicago Press.
For more information about real dinosaurs (including artistic renderings), check out The Dinosaur Encyclopedia, created by Graeme Worth. It contains detailed information on all fully characterized dinosaurs described up until July 1999.
The following list of recommended works is only that: a list of recommended works. There are literally thousands and thousands of stories and novels written about dinosaurs. For a more comprehensive list, visit dinosauria.com.
- Dinosaur Summer by Greg Bear and Tony DiTerlizzi
- After Professor Challenger's discovery of living dinosaurs in South America, the terrible lizards become staples of zoos and circuses around the world. But when the last of these attractions shuts down, a dinosaur trainer organizes an expedition to return the great beasts to their natural habitat, on that isolated plateau in Venezuela. Sequel to Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World.
- The Land That Time Forgot (et seq.) by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- A group of soldiers find themselves marooned on an isolated island in the Pacific Ocean, which they soon discover is inhabited by dinosaurs, Neanderthals, and other creatures of the distant past. Part of the Caspak series. [Available online]
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
- On an isolated island off the coast of Costa Rica, a dinosaur theme park is set up with real dinosaurs genetically-engineered from DNA samples found in mosquitoes preserved in amber. Also worth checking out is its sequel, The Lost World, despite the dreadful movie it inspired (the novel and movie bear little resemblance to each other) and the fact that its title was stolen from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. [Excerpt online]
- The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle
- An expedition led by Professor George E. Challenger travels to the Amazonian rain forest and discovers a remote plateau where dinosaurs still roam the Earth. [Available online]
- Anonymous Rex: A Detective Story by Eric Garcia
- Dinosaurs never went extinct; instead, they secretly evolved into intelligent creatures and now disguise themselves as humans and comprise about 5% of the world's population. They have jobs just like anyone else—doctors, lawyers, even private detectives, like Vincent Rubio, who is hired to investigate a suspicious fire in this farcical, fantastical mystery. [Excerpt online]
- West of Eden | Winter in Eden | Return to Eden by Harry Harrison
- In a world where dinosaurs never went extinct, hunter-gatherer clans of humans live among the great beasts in North America, meanwhile, the Yilane, a race of intelligent, evolved dinosaurs, thrive in Africa an Europe. But when an oncoming ice age forces the cold-blooded Yilane to explore westward, they discover the humans take a young boy named Kerrick back to Africa with them as their slave. The series chronicles the adventures of Kerrick who escapes his captors and comes to lead his people against the saurian threat from across the sea. Also known as the West of Eden trilogy.
- The Homecoming by Barry B. Longyear
- Evolved dinosaurs return to Earth to reclaim it as their own. [Excerpt online]
- Far-Seer | Fossil Hunter | Foreigner by Robert J. Sawyer
- This series chronicles the lives of three Quintaglios, a race of intelligent dinosaurs evolved from dwarf tyrannosaurs—Afsan, the Quintaligo equivalent of Galileo; Toroca, the Quintaligo equivalent of Darwin; and Mokleb, the Quintaligo equivalent of Freud. Also known as the Quintaligo Ascension trilogy. [Excerpts online: Far-Seer | Fossil Hunter | Foreigner)
- End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer
- A paleontologist travels back in time to find out what really caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and what he discovers is almost too fantastic to imagine.... [Excerpt online]
Essential Short Fiction
- "Wildcat" by Poul Anderson
- An oil company sets up shop in the Upper Jurassic and find plenty of oil...and dinosaurs too.
- "A Statue for Father" by Isaac Asimov
- A team of scientists is able to recover fourteen dinosaur eggs from the Mesozoic—a valuable scientific achievement to be sure, but when one of the hatchlings is accidentally electrocuted, they discover that the dinosaurs have other value as well.
- "Herding with the Hadrosaurs" by Michael Bishop
- On a temporal trip to the Late Cretaceous, two young boys are stranded when a T-Rex attack makes them orphans. They must learn to survive however they can, and their salvation is found in a Hadrosaur herd.
- "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury
- On a dinosaur-hunting safari in the past, a hunter accidentally treads on a butterfly, thereby altering the timeline from which he originated.
- "The Fog Horn" by Ray Bradbury
- A dinosaur visits a lighthouse every year because its foghorn resembles its mating call. Inspired the movie The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.
- "The Measure of All Things" | "Bronte's Egg" | "In Tibor's Cardboard Castle" (forthcoming in F&SF) by Richard Chwedyk
- These charming tales tell the story of the saurs—bio-engineered, fully-sentient dinosaurid "toys"— which live in a sort of wildlife refuge located in an old house and are looked after by the resident human, Tom.
- "A Gun for Dinosaur" by L. Sprague de Camp
- Reginald Rivers of Rivers & Aiyar, Time Safaris, tells the tale of a hunt gone terribly wrong to a prospective client.
- "The Big Splash" by L. Sprague de Camp
- Rivers & Aiyar, Time Safaris, take a scientific expedition to the end of the Cretaceous to observe the K-T Event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs.
- "Foster Mother" by Carol Emshwiller
- A woman in an isolated mountain region raises an infant dinosaurid creature to be a weapon, but forms an emotional bond with it that leads her to question whether or not she'll be able to give up custody of her foster child.
- "Creature" by Carol Emshwiller
- A simple-minded but intelligent dinosaurid creature—an engineered weapon designed to patrol the empty border lands—is nursed back to health by a kindly stranger. Sequel to "Foster Mother."
- "The Virgin and the Dinosaur" by R. Garcia y Robertson
- A time travel guide takes a beautiful young paleontologist on a tour of the Mesozoic and must keep her alive long enough for him to work his charms on her.
- "Gator" by Robert J. Sawyer
- When a sewer worker in New York City is bitten by something in the sewers, Dr. David Ludlam makes a startling discovery about what's lurking beneath the city.
- "Just Like Old Times" by Robert J. Sawyer
- In lieu of a standard death sentence, a serial killer's mind is "chronotransfered" into the past, superimposing his consciousness overtop that of a Tyrannosaurus rex, shortly before the creature's demise.
- "Small Deer" by Clifford D. Simak
- A time traveler discovers that the extinction of the dinosaurs was indeed caused by an extraterrestrial event, but an asteroid impact had nothing to do with it....
- "Trembling Earth" by Allen Steele
- A presidential candidate's visit to the dinosaur-inhabited Okafenokee wildlife refuge goes terribly wrong, and the details are revealed as the survivors explain their harrowing experience to a committee.
- "Green Brother" by Howard Waldrop
- A Native American boy's vision quest leads to his discovery of his spirit animal, a T. Rex, which comes to life and helps him fend off the troops with which his tribe is at war.
Essential Collections & Anthologies
- Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury
- Reprint collection: the collected dinosaur fiction of Ray Bradbury, including illustrations by Willliam Stout, Steranko, Kenneth Smith, Moebius, David Wiesner, Gahan Wilson, and Overton Loyd. [Contents]
- Dinosaurs! edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
- Reprint anthology: the editors' choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published.
- Dinosaurs II edited by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois
- Reprint anthology: more of the editors' choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published.
- Rivers of Time by L. Sprague de Camp
- Reprint collection: the collected adventures of Rivers & Aiyar, Time Safaris.
- Dinosaurs edited by Martin H. Greenberg
- Reprint anthology: the editor's choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published.
- The Ultimate Dinosaur: Past, Present, Future edited by Byron Preiss, Robert Silverberg, & Peter Dodson
- Original & Reprint Anthology: a combination of non-fiction and science fiction—informative scientific articles from leading dinosaur experts around the world and speculation from some of the top names in science fiction.
- Dinosaur Fantastic edited by Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg
- Original anthology: dinosaur fiction covering a range of themes.
- Return of the Dinosaurs edited by Mike Resnick & Martin H. Greenberg
- Original anthology: more dinosaur fiction covering a range of themes.
- The Science Fictional Dinosaur edited by Robert Silverberg, Martin H. Greenberg, & Charles G. Waugh
- Reprint anthology: the editors' choices for the best dinosaur fiction ever published, including a glossary, a geologic time scale, and a reptile classification chart.
- Silurian Tales by Steven Utley
- Series as yet uncollected, not really about dinosaurs, but probably of interest to fans of dinosaur fiction. These are time travel stories involving trilobites. [Contents]
Other Recommended Novels
- Raptor Red by Robert T. Bakker
- The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
- Footprints of Thunder by James F. David
- The Bone Wars by Brett Davis
- Tyrannosaur by David Drake
- The Year the Cloud Fell (et seq.) by Kurt R. A. Giambastiani [Excerpt online]
- Cretaceous Sea by Will Hubbell
- Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel
- Dinosaur Beach by Keith Laumer (expanded from "The Timesweepers")
- Dinosaur Planet (et seq.) by Anne McCaffrey
- The Land of Terror by Kenneth Robeson
- Project Pendulum by Robert Silverberg
- The Dechronization of Sam Magruder by George Gaylord Simpson
- Our Children's Children by Clifford D. Simak
- Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick [Excerpt online]
- Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne [Available online]
- Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny
Other Recommended Short Fiction
- "Poor Little Warrior!" by Brian W. Aldiss
- "Day of the Hunters" by Isaac Asimov
- "The Hunters of Pangaea" by Stephen Baxter
- "Midnight at the Ichnologist's Ball" by Greg Beatty [Available online]
- "Paradox Lost" by Fredric Brown
- "The Runners" by Bob Buckley
- "Dino Trend" by Pat Cadigan
- "Time's Arrow" by Arthur C. Clarke
- "Obsidian Harvest" by Rick Cook & Ernest Hogan
- "Crocamander Quest" by L. Sprague de Camp
- "Target of Opportunity" by Stephen Dedman
- "Dawn of the Endless Night" by Harry Harrison
- "Think Like a Dinosaur" by James Patrick Kelly
- "Dinosaurs" by Geoffrey A. Landis
- "Stegosaurus Boy" by Steven Popkes
- "The Ruum" by Arthur Porges
- "Forever" by Robert J. Sawyer
- "If I'm Here, Imagine Where They Sent My Luggage" by Robert J. Sawyer
- "Our Lady of the Sauropods" by Robert Silverberg
- "Hunters in the Forest" by Robert Silverberg
- "Riding the Giganotosaur" by Michael Swanwick
- "Scherzo with Tyrannosaur" by Michael Swanwick
- "Hatching Season" by Harry Turtledove
- "In the Late Cretaceous" by Connie Willis