The dinosaur – the Terrible Lizard that dominated the earth many aeons before man evolved – has long fascinated people, young and old. The immense size, the gnashing teeth, the huge plates and horns, the birdlike posture, the sweeping tail – mention the word “dinosaur” and one or all of these pictures leaps into the listener’s mind. Science-fiction writers, too, have been enamored of these prehistoric beasts and have found ways to incorporate the dinosaur into their tales of the future.
Here is a collection of such tales – tales of men who go back in time to study or photograph or hunt the great beasts, tales of the danger such journeys post to evolved life on the planet.
There’s Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder”…Paul Ash’s “The Wings of a Bat”…John Updike’s “During the Jurassic”…Brian W. Aldiss’ “Poor Little Warrior,” plus a number of distinguished stories and a preface by James O. Farlow.
Imagination and scientific insight fill these stories and will enlighten the reader even while they grip him with the tension of their adventures – an anthology for dinosaur buffs and science-fiction fans alike.
Behold the Mighty Dinosaur is an anthology of seven dinosaur-themed stories and one poem previously published in various pulp and science fiction magazines. The book begins with a preface by paleontologist James O. Farlow summarizing what scientists knew about dinosaurs at that point in time. The book came out a year after Luis and Walter Alvarez first proposed a comet/asteroid impact as the cause of the extinction of the dinosaurs, so Farlow doesn’t mention the hypothesis, which makes the essay an interesting look into what extinction theories were popular before then. The story collection kicks off with the poem “The Dinosaur,” by Bert Leston Taylor, from which we get the phrase “behold the mighty dinosaur.”
The first and longest story in the collection is “Before the Dawn” by John Taine, first published in 1934. In the story, scientists discover a way to replay scenes from the Mesozoic Era using what is essentially a Star Trek holodeck. The bulk of the tale follows the life of Belshazzar, a dinosaur that is likely a T. rex although the author never makes that clear. Unfortunately the narrative is muddled, unfocused, and filled with purple prose, so I doubt most readers will reach the end of this nearly 100-page story before skipping ahead to the next one in the anthology.
“The Sands of Time” by Bert Leston Taylor, first published in 1937, gets off to a promising start. In it, a paleontologist is approached by a man with life-like photographs of dinosaurs. Sadly the story devolves into standard pulp magazine fare roughly halfway through, throwing in a princess, aliens, ray guns, and some uncomfortable racial elements.
The remaining stories are a vast improvement over the first two. “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury is a science fiction classic and needs no introduction here. “Poor Little Warrior!” by Brian W. Aldiss concerns a dinosaur hunter who fails to account for the ecological role of his prey. “The Wings of a Bat” by Paul Ash is about an unlikely friendship between a pterodactyl and a time traveler. “The Runners” by Bob Buckley follows a scientific expedition to the Late Cretaceous and may be one of the first science fiction stories in which “raptor” dinosaurs (Dromaeosauridae) play a significant role. The anthology concludes with “During the Jurassic” by John Updike, which parodies high society by casting all the characters as dinosaurs.
Behold the Mighty Dinosaur is an uneven anthology. The first two stories take up nearly half the book but are by far the weakest in the collection. The remaining stories are far better and worth a read, although most have been published in superior anthologies. I would only go out of my way to track down Behold the Mighty Dinosaur if you are a completist for dinosaur literature.
- “Preface: Behold the Mighty Dinosaur” by James O. Farlow
- “The Dinosaur” by Bert Leston Taylor
- “Before the Dawn” by John Taine
- “The Sands of Time” by P. Schuyler Miller
- “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury
- “Poor Little Warrior!” by Brian W. Aldiss
- “The Wings of a Bat” by Paul Ash
- “The Runners” by Bob Buckley
- “During the Jurassic” by John Updike
- Editor David Jablonski is a paleontologist who is currently a Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago.