Hugosauriad 3.2: Our Lady of the Sauropods by Robert Silverberg

The cover of the September 1980 cover of Omni boasted that “Robert Silverberg returns” without any further clarification on the manner of his reappearance. Silverberg (who pops in and out of this narrative in various roles) had taken a hiatus from short fiction due to the poor return compared to the effort and skill involved:

“…I abandoned short-story writing in 1973 after doing “Schwartz Between the Galaxies” and felt only relief, no regret, at giving it up. Short stories were just too much trouble to do. You needed a stunning idea, for one thing—the ideal science-fiction short story, I think, should amaze and delight—and you had to develop it with cunning and craft, working at the edge of your nervous system every moment, polishing and repolishing to hide all those extraneous knees and elbows. Doing a good short story at that level of quality meant a week or two of strenuous work, for which the immediate cash reward in the 1970s was likely to be about $250, and then maybe $100 every year or two thereafter if you had written something good enough to be reprinted in anthologies.”

Introduction to ‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

Silverberg didn’t win a Hugo in 1981 but Lord Valentine’s Castle was a finalist for best novel and Our Lady of Sauropods was a finalist for best short story. The finalists for 1981 feel like an inflection point for this project also with a host of familiar names but ones that span from the beginnings of the Hugo Awards to the present day. For example Clifford Simak won best short story that year for Grotto of the Dancing Deer, while in novella George R R Martin was a two-time finalist. In fanzine and fan-writer there’s File 770 and Mike Glyer! Meanwhile, Best Dramatic Presentation is all full of exciting stuff I saw as a kid.*

Our Lady of the Sauropods could be described as Jurassic Park in space, indeed consider this line:

“After that unfortunate San Diego event with the tyrannosaur, it became politically unfeasible to keep them anywhere on earth, I know, but even so this is a better scheme.”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

A t-rex in San Diego is an actual plot point in Jurassic Park 2! Which is even more remarkable given Silverberg wrote this ten years before Michael Crichton wrote his first Jurassic Park book.

The set-up is a space habitat established at the L5 point that has been established as a conservation area for dinosaurs.

“We don’t pretend that the real Mesozoic ever held any such mix of fauna as I’ve seen today, stegosaurs and corythosaurs side by side, a triceratops sourly glaring at a brachiosaur, struthiomimus contemporary with iguanodon, a wild unscientific jumble of Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous, a hundred million years of the dinosaur reign scrambled together. We take what we can get. Olsen-process reconstructs require sufficient fossil DNA to permit the computer synthesis, and we’ve been able to find that in only some twenty species so far. The wonder is that we’ve accomplished even that much: to replicate the complete DNA molecule from battered and sketchy genetic information millions of years old, to carry out the intricate implants in reptilian host ova, to see the embryos through to self-sustaining levels. The only word that applies is miraculous. If our dinos come from eras millions of years apart, so be it: we do our best. If we have no pterosaur and no allosaur and no archaeopteryx, so be it: we may have them yet. What we already have is plenty to work with. Some day there may be separate Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous satellite habitats, but none of us will live to see that, I suspect.”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

The habitat is largely left alone apart from occasional visits from scientist from a nearby human habitat. The protagonist and first-person narrator is a woman who had set out to do a routine observation tour of “Dino Island”. Normally such tours would be done from the safety of a mobile capsule but her mobile unit severely malfunctions leaving her with no food, weapons or communication. She will have to survive for thirty days alone in the artificial jungles of Dino Island.

It is only hours after her module burnt down that she begins to suspect sabotage. A professional feud with a colleague who wanted Dino Island to be opened up for tourists leads her to suspect that she has been set up to die in what will appear to be a tragic accident.

In the first few days she survives using her wits and knowledge of dinosaurs. She avoids predators and finds food and copes with the warm wet climate but finds she is having increasingly strange thoughts. Then a clumsy accident leads to a badly sprained leg — not in itself a serious injury but leaving her too debilitated to forage for food or water.

Aid arrives mysteriously. Eggs at first and later meat. Eventually she comes to a startling conclusion: “I think the dinosaurs are taking care of me.”

There is a pervasive psychic connection between all the dinosaurs on the habitat and with her increased exposure to them she increasingly becomes attuned to their thoughts, until she has a final revelation:

“I feel the intense love radiating from the titan that looms above me. I feel the contact between our souls steadily strengthening and deepening. The last barriers dissolve. And I understand at last. I am the chosen one. I am the vehicle. I am the bringer of rebirth, the beloved one, the necessary one. Our Lady of the Sauropods am I, the holy one, the prophetess, the priestess. Is this madness? Then it is madness. Why have we small hairy creatures existed at all? I know now. It is so that through our technology we could make possible the return of the great ones. They perished unfairly. Through us, they are resurrected aboard this tiny glove in space. I tremble in the force of the need that pours from them. I will not fail you, I tell the great sauropods before me, and the sauropods send my thoughts reverberating to all the others.”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

The dinosaurs have saved her but they’ve also saved her for a reason: the dinosaurs are back and ready to take back the planet!

“I stretch forth my arms to the mighty creatures that surround me. I feel their strength, their power, their harmony. I am one with them, and they with me. The Great Race has returned, and I am its priestess. Let the hairy ones tremble!”

‘Our Lady of the Sauropods’ Silverberg, Robert The Palace at Midnight: The Collected Stories Volume 5 . Orion. Kindle Edition.

Aside from it having a woman protagonist who also enacts a bloody revenge against a shitty colleague, this is the most pro-dinosaur of all the stories so far. There has been a conceptual shift in portrait of dinosaurs from out-dated lumbering and stupid monsters who were replaced by smarter, better mammals to creatures that are smart and swift and whose reign over Earth was unjustly curtailed by happenstance.

Having said that, this connection of ideas between dinosaurs and revolution isn’t wholly new. It is there in the second part of A Case of Conscience and even in the various hunters-shooting-dinosaur stories there is a trope of a dinosaur killing over entitled idiots.

I can’t say this is connection that I would have thought of prior to starting this project and yet dinosaurs and revolution is something that we will meet some more times before we are done.

Rex mortuus est, vivat T-rex

Next time, a dinosaur story with no dinosaurs in it: Dinosaurs by Walter John Williams

*[Actually I’ve never seen the movie version of Lathe of Heaven]

5 thoughts on “Hugosauriad 3.2: Our Lady of the Sauropods by Robert Silverberg

  1. The 1980 Lathe of Heaven is good, though annoyingly unclear in spots. The 2002 version is much less effective and takes more liberties with the script so it’s more of a love story.

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  2. If Silverberg had been Ellison, he’d have sued Crichton. D

    I’ve seen the 2002 movie Lathe of Heaven, and it’s really, reaaaaally bad. But I think a lot of that has to do with Lukas Haas’ inability to act his way out of a paper bag. I hadn’t seen the 1980 version before. It’s very trippy! Lots of psychedelic imagery. I’ll bet people used to take drugs before watching it, back in the day.

    Interestingly, Ed Emshwiller was the Visual Consultant, and Peter Emshwiller was his assistant.

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    1. //If Silverberg had been Ellison, he’d have sued Crichton. D//

      There are nuttier examples of people suing and also of films pre-emptively getting the rights to works because of similarities.

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