Hugosauriad 2.8: The Night-Blooming Saurian by James Tiptree Jr

The most glaring absence in my initial list of Hugo-related dinosaur stories for this time period was the presence of women. Women were certainly writing science fiction but representation in the Hugo Awards was sporadic. Prior to 1971 there were occasionally women finalists in fiction categories but there were several years were there where no stories by women writers at all as finalists. https://www.kith.org/jed/hugo-stats-author-gender/

In 1968 Anne McCaffery won best Novella for Weyr Search (a joint winner with Philip Jose Farmer’s ‘Riders of the Purple Wage’). In 1970 Ursula Le Guin won best novel for The Lefthand of Darkness. 1971 would prove to be the last year that there were no stories by women as finalists in the fiction categories. From there, women’s representation in fiction changed gradually and erratically but would never again return to zero.

I’ll talk about McCaffery in the next era. Unfortunately “Weyr Search” falls foul of my “no dragon” rule even though the dragons of Pern are arguably dinosaur like and non-fantastical. Le Guin also wrote about dragons but not, to my knowledge, dinosaurs. A dragonological account of the Hugo Awards might present a quite different picture but I wouldn’t want to suggest women are averse to writing about dinosaurs. For example Leigh Brackett’s planetary adventures from the 1940s included reptilian dinosaur-like creatures used as domestic animals and steeds by the peoples of Mars and Venus. Andre Norton’s Postmarked the Stars (part of the Solar Queen series) has birds devolving into dinosaurs. However, with fewer stories by women getting published than men, some topics are just less likely to be covered.

I was despairing of finding an ideal example of a story that was:

  1. about dinosaurs
  2. written by a woman
  3. published before 1971
  4. by an author born before 1922

Luckily Jane Sand came to my rescue after I made a plea for suggestions.

jaynsand Jul 10, 2019 at 7:06 am
I’m pretty sure Tiptree had a story called “The Night-Blooming Saurian” or something…

https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2019/07/10/some-dinography-assistance/#comment-37224

It was exactly what I was looking for — indeed so perfect that it felt like a confirmation that the idea of looking at a history of science fiction via dinosaurs is not as absurd as it sounds. You doubt me? Well then consider this.

The Night-Blooming Saurian” was first published in If (May 1970), the same magazine which had published ‘The Thing in the Stone’ in March of the same year. OK, not much of a connection and it isn’t that surprising to find the story in the Dinosaurs! anthology edited by Gardner Dozois to which I’ve already linked A Gun for Dinosaur and Poor Little Warrior (more surprising is that I’d read the content page and hadn’t noticed who had written it and hence needed somebody else to point it out). No, the extra delightful aspect of the story was that it was included in the Tiptree anthology “Warm Worlds and Otherwise” and anthology that opens with an introduction by Robert Silverberg* entitled “Who is Tiptree, What is He?

“Inflamed by Tiptree’s obstinate insistence on personal obscurity, science-fictionists have indulged themselves in the wildest sort of speculation about him. His real name, it is often said, is something other than Tiptree, though no one knows what it might be. (That “Tiptree” is a pseudonym is plausible enough, but I rather hope it isn’t so. I like the name and want it to belong by birthright to the man who uses it on these stories.) It has been suggested that Tiptree is female, a theory that I find absurd, for there is to me something ineluctably masculine about Tiptree’s writing. I don’t think the novels of Jane Austen could have been written by a man nor the stories of Ernest Hemingway by a woman, and in the same way I believe the author of the James Tiptree stories is male.”

“Who is Tiptree, What is He?” Introduction to Warm Worlds and Otherwise Robert Silverberg https://onionandartichoke.wordpress.com/2015/12/01/who-is-tiptree-what-is-he/

The twist in the tale, for those who don’t already know, was that James Tiptree Jr was actually Alice Sheldon, an artist and writer who found critical acclaim using the pseudonym that she had partly constructed from a brand of English marmalade.

“The Night-Blooming Saurian” is also the perfect story to hand off this era. As James Davis Nicoll said about this story of prehistoric mishaps: ‘“Idiots with rifles and a yen to kill dinosaurs” is a rich little genre all to itself.” (https://jamesdavisnicoll.com/review/have-a-cup-of-cheer)

Like A Gun for Dinosaur the story is structured as a lengthy anecdote told to another person. Unlike our previous encounters with time travel safaris, the scientists studying the past are central. A group of researchers are using time travel to research human origins in the Rift Valley. Unfortunately, the funding for the project has been dependent on the vote of an influential (but not to well informed) senator. To add to their misfortune, the team discover that the senator was promised the opportunity to hunt a dinosaur, despite the team machine currently placing the team well after the time the dinosaurs became extinct.

What follows is a Potemkin village caper but with dinosaurs, as a scheme is concocted to convince the visiting senator that he has hunted a brontosaurus.

Once again, the dinosaur is pitted against the vain and petty strain of human nature. In this case nobody gets eaten by a t-rex, exploded by a time paradox or irrevocably alters history. However, the need to create some verisimilitude for the senator’s hunting requires the team to source some surprising props:

“Now for the trails,” said Fitz. He unfolded a gory fin like a sailfish plate. “They mark up the trees with this. And they make a nest of wet reeds — our swampy bit there is just right. There’s on thing, though.”
He scratched mud off his chest hair, squinting at Jeanne MacGregor.
“The trails,” he said. “It’s not just footprints. They, well, they eat a lot and—have you ever seen a moose-run? Those trails are load with manure.”
There was pause that grew into a silence.

The Night-bloomin Saurian by James Tiptree Jr If:Worlds of Science Fiction May 1970 https://archive.org/details/1970-05-06_IF/page/n63

The team end up providing the manure themselves by shifting their diet to prehistoric greenery. Less good in this section of the story are the jokes about a larger woman in the team whose big appetite means she contributes extra to the project.

The story finishes with

“You see, the Senator liked it so well that he decided to return and bring his cronies. Yes. A very difficult business, Pier, until our funding finally stabilised. Do you wonder I can’t stand the sight of salad since? And coprolites…
What? Oh, that means fossil excrement. Paleobotanists used to have a big thing going there. No sense now, when we can just go back…And anyway, who’s to say how genuine they are?”

The Night-bloomin Saurian by James Tiptree Jr If:Worlds of Science Fiction May 1970 https://archive.org/details/1970-05-06_IF/page/n63

I’m not going to do the maths on the team’s manure plan but I suspect it would be hard to make their poo-fabrication idea work 🙂

Is it a Hugo worthy story that was overlooked? Well, I’ve read worse and it presents an original take on an established idea. It tackles with humour questions about the process of doing science and absurdities people put themselves through just to get a chance to do their jobs.

And this is the end of the Triassic Era. We’ve followed the Hugo Awards from their start to a period of both influence and change and on the way met various dinosaurs. In the next era, the Hugo’s expand and the representation and cultural role of dinosaurs shift.

*[Not a project I’d be up to doing, but a history of the Hugo Awards tracing the ups-and-downs and observations of Robert Silverberg would be another way of approaching the topic]


10 thoughts on “Hugosauriad 2.8: The Night-Blooming Saurian by James Tiptree Jr

  1. I’m not going to do the maths on the team’s manure plan but I suspect it would be hard to make their poo-fabrication idea work.

    Indeed, as Ian Malcom will tell you:

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  2. Leave it to Tiptree to skewer the “big game hunter shoots dinosaur” mini genre.

    The continuing fascination with dinosaur poo is certainly fascinating. I think every Jurassic Park movie had at least one dinosaur poop joke.

    Regarding Leigh Brackett’s reptilian Martian beasts of burden, I’m currently rereading two Brackett stories for Galactic Journey and there is almost no descriptions of these creatures beyond the fact that they have grey scaly hide. Otherwise, they function exactly like horses. Planet Stories cover artist Allen Anderson depicted them as goofy looking seahorses, but then I wouldn’t necessarily take his version as correct. After all, he also depicted Eric John Stark as a white man, even though Stark is black, which is repeatedly mentioned in the story.

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      1. The link works for me. At any rate, it’s the summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories with a woman riding a goofy, goggle-eyed seahorse like creature, while a white guy who is supposed to be Eric John Stark fights a Martian warrior.

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      2. The horse thing seems to be
        a) shocked that a fight broke out between characters who’d been on the edge of fighting for several chapters at this point.
        b) shocked that Eric John Stark is white, even though he is clearly described as black.
        c) shocked at having found out that Berild, the attractive woman riding it, is centuries old
        d) has just found out that it will be dead within two pages of this scene.

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