Let’s face it–dinosaurs are more exciting than the “other” residents of our distant past. But that doesn’t change the fact that they existed.
After taking a look at this article, I realized there is far more to ancient history than ginormous lizards.
As an author I need to extrapolate beyond the obvious in order to create a realistic story. Part of building a world requires it to be believable to the reader. The more details, the more immersive that world becomes. You shouldn’t just throw the protagonist into a forest full of giant ferns running from a ravenous T-Rexx, as exciting as that may sound.
I should point out the fundamental difference between fantasy and science fiction is the latter requires some scientific basis to work from while fantasy defines its own “science”. If you have a world where you transform into a new creature every sixteen months, and your new form defines your status in society, that is fantasy. Your world, your rules. You only need to follow your own made-up logic.
In science fiction we base our story off of some sort of “normal” understanding of how things work. There are ways to play with that but at the end of the day it is still based on reality. In order for you to transform into a new creature here, there needs to be some sort of drug invented that rearranges your DNA. A more solid story would include additional details to convince the reader it is possible.
The same goes with sci-fi to include our ancient world in the story. Time travel would be the most obvious choice but there are other ways. You may know renowned author Jack London for his wilderness stories such as “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”, but he also wrote a very interesting serialized novel called “Before Adam” that drew upon a modern human’s inherited dormant memories to resurrect his ancient ancestor’s prehistoric adventures.
Another popular method is to discover a “Lost World” where dinosaurs still exist, but this is more fantasy than sci-fi in my opinion. “Jurassic Park” leveraged fossilized DNA to recreate dinosaurs and because they admitted to filling in the missing DNA gaps with modern creatures to invent special abilities, did a great job of keeping the science in the fiction. But both of these examples utilize the modern world as the setting and therefore open the settings to less stringent requirements.
So, what makes a good sci-fi novel?
To write a solid sci-fi novel during the age of dinosaurs you need a protagonist who has a believable reason for being there and a convincing setting. T-Rexx lived during the late Cretaceous period so you can’t have him eating a Stegosaurus, who went extinct 80 million years before the first T-Rexx was born. Likewise, you want to research the fauna and mammals who were believed to have existed during the same period and include these details as part of the setting as you reveal your world to the reader.
I have to caveat all of this with the statement that humans make mistakes and come up with these details based on the study of fossils and dating where the fossils were discovered. It is entirely possible we will realize a better understanding and revise parts of what we are currently accepting as fact, and that could make these stories no longer accurate. Authors need to work with what they have during their lifetimes, so we need to cut them a little slack should future science alter our current grasp on how things work.
What do you think? Please comment below.