Hugosauriad 3.4: In the Late Cretaceous by Connie Willis

[Scene: an English courtroom in 1940s London for some reason. It is crowded with a packed public gallery but all present are tired as if they had sat through a long and complex trial. The judge is wearing red robes and an unfeasibly large impractical wig. He is holding a gavel. The lights above the jury box are broken and the jury is in shadow. Oddly all the jurors are wearing hooded capes which hide their faces.]
[Judge] God Bless the Queen. We now move to closing arguments in the case of “In the Late Cretaceous” versus The Crown for the crime of Grevious Infringement of the Integrity of Genre with Malice Aforethought. First we’ll hear from the defence.

[voice from the crowd] Objection!

[Judge banging his gavel] SILENCE! Ahem…your closing arguments please.
[The defence barristers stands] Thank you, your honour and may I say what a delightful wig you are wearing today.
[Judge] Bah! Enough toadying get on with it.
[Defence Barrister] Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, this has been a long and difficult trial. We have heard from numerous witnesses and we have heard many arguments. It is my task to sum up for you now why IN.CONTRO.VERTIBLY my client is INNOCENT of these BASELESS and MALICIOUS charges.
My client, a perfectly innocent story, has been accused of violating the sacred boundaries of genre by falsely claiming to be a science fiction story WHEN, according to its accusers, it is nothing more than a mundane comedy about academics. What testing times we live in that such a mild and heartfelt story should suffer such vile slanders against it.
We have heard from no less an authority than the great John W. Campbell himself, one of the most formative voices in the history of science fiction that “science fiction is what science-fiction editors publish”. No truer a word has ever been spoken. Now let us look to the record of this story. This story, this charming and unimpeachable story, was published by no less an editor than Gardener Dozois himself. And where was it published? In the Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (exhibit A Mid-December 1991). Let me just stress that again ISAAC ASIMOV’s, one of the greatest science fiction authors EVER. Nor was this the story’s only publication. It has appeared in numerous collections including ‘The Ultimate Dinosaur’ anthology edited by multiple Hugo Award winner Robert Silverberg. To convict this story is to throw this same absurd charge against Dozios, Silverberg and Isaac Asimov himself.
We also heard from Mr Damon Knight, a man whose very name sounds like it is from a science fiction film, comic book or maybe a series of fantasy novels about a knight that fights demons. Mr Knight testified that “science fiction is what I mean when I point at it” and has not “In the Late Cretaceous” been pointed at? Yay, not once but many times?
We have also looked at the brilliant record of the author, Connie Willis. She is not just an author of science fiction but, according to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is no less than a Damon Knight Memorial GRAND MASTER of Science Fiction, indeed the 28th person to be recognised as such. She is an author who has won SEVEN Nebula award for her science fiction and no less than eleven Hugo Awards. The prosecution has conceded that there is no doubt that Connie Willis is a science fiction author and yet STILL they try to deny that this kind and humane story is science fiction. [shakes head sadly]
We heard from the prosecution that they object to the stories “content” that somehow it is is set “in the present day” as if the field of science fiction is not littered with stories set in the present. They gratuitously ignore the presence of a tyrannosaurus-Rex within the story – and I don’t know about you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, but that’s not a creature I normally see in the present day! We also have hadrosaurs, and other types of dinosaurs such as [checks notes] sophomores.

[voice from the crowd] Objection!

[Judge banging gavel] OVER RULED!
[Defence Barrister] Thank you m’lud. If the jury would look to exhibit B, a print out of the “Internet Science Fiction Database” you will see the copious entry that this story, “In the Late Cretaceous” has. The anthologies… the translations…and if you would look to the top of the page, the AWARDS. Winner of the 1991 HOMer award for Best Short Story; tenth choice in the 1992 Asimov’s Reader’s poll; FOURTH place in the prestigious Locus award [turning to the judge] a notable science fiction periodical m’lud. Finally, it was also THIRD PLACE in the World Science Fiction Society’s Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Story in 1992 (and how science fictional does that date sound!)
Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, it is simply unbelievable that a story of this pedigree and these bona-fides be NOT regarded as a science fiction story. As I said in my opening remarks:
if it has a dinosaur in it – then you must acquit it.
The defence rests. [gives small bow. The prosecution barrister gives an audible sigh and rolls their eyes.]

[voice from the crowd] Objection! Objection! Objection!
[Judge] OK I’m bored. I’ll allow it. What is your objection?
[Voice from the crowd] One: this isn’t how trials are run. Two: your wig is clearly ridiculous. Three: British judges don’t have a gavel. And that’s just for starters!
You said ‘God Bless the Queen’ at the start for no reason and it is supposed to be the 1940s so you should have said ‘God Bless the King’ if anything. There’s no such crime as Grevious Infringement of the Integrity of Genre with Malice Aforethought AND you’ve spelt “grievous wrong”! This isn’t even a courtroom, it’s a municipal library! And we don’t say “objection” in English courts anyway — you’ve stolen that from American TV shows that don’t event exist yet!
[Judge] Objection over ruled. Sergeant, remove that malcontent from my courtroom.
[Voice from the crowd as they are carried away] Nooooo!!!!!
[Judge] Now, if the prosecution could sum up.

[Prosecution barrister] (sigh) OK, I’ll run through this one more time:

  1. this is a story about academics with a new university management
  2. the main conflict is parking fines
  3. the ‘dinosaurs’ only appear when mentioned in lectures and are primarily there to make jokes about students copying notes down wrong.
  4. it has literally ZERO speculative content in it
  5. It has zero fantasy or magical content in it
  6. it is, I will grant, charming and funny but it is utterly mundane
  7. yes, science fiction fans liked it but that’s because they like Connie Willis and the story has the kind of humour that they like and often read in fanzines
  8. it is essentially fan writing and sure that would be fine if it was a Hugo award for fan writing or best related work but it isn’t
  9. saying ‘fans like it’ is an absurd argument – they like beer and propeller beanies that doesn’t make either of those things science fiction
  10. winning a Hugo etc is exactly WHY this story is being prosecuted!
  11. and that’s it…the prosecution rests.

[Judge] No, no, you can’t say ‘the prosecution rests’ until you’ve given the jury a funny rhyme.
[Prosecution barrister] Seriously?
[Judge] The defence had a funny rhyme, you’ve got to have one as well. Only right and proper.
[Prosecution barrister] (sigh) um, if it has a parking ticket then you must convict?
[Judge pulling a face] That doesn’t really rhyme but I’ll allow it. And…?
[Prosecution barrister] And what?
[Judge] The prosecution
[Prosecution barrister] Oh, sorry, yes… and the prosecution rests.
[Judge] Thank you, that wasn’t so hard now was it? [turns to jury] Ladies and gentlemen of the jury you must now deliberate on why you find this charming story not guilty on all counts.
[Prosecution barrister] What? Objection!
[Judge] Overruled. Foreman, have you reached a verdict?

[The foreman of the jury stands up. His head cloaked in the shadows of his hood.]
[Foreman] Wwe havvve yourr hhonourr.
[Judge] And what is it then?
[Foreman] NOT GUILTY!
[The court erupts in cheers]
[Prosecution barrister] Hang on a minute…[He walks over to the foreman and pull backs the hood of the juror’s cloak. Underneath is revealed…the head of a dromaeosaur!]
[Foreman raising his claws and jumping onto the edge of the jury box] SQUARRRGGGG!!!
[Prosecution barrister] ARGGGHHHHHH!!!!!
[Chaos erupts all around. The judge stands up and as he does his wig falls off revealing that he is, in fact, a TYRANNOSAURUS REX]
[Judge] ROARRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!! [the crowd flees pursued by dinosaurs]

Next time: telescopes at the ready for Robert J. Sawyer’s Far-Seer.


8 responses to “Hugosauriad 3.4: In the Late Cretaceous by Connie Willis”

  1. How many members of the crowd had fleas?

    I wish I’d found In the Late Cretaceous as funny as this section of the Hugosauriad, but despite loving the same kind of screwball comedy films that Willis is a big fan of, I don’t usually find her humorous stories very, um, humorous. (With the exception of the absolutely hilarious Even the Queen. Which sadly has no dinosaurs.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. One little thing I correct whenever I see it, it being a bit of a pet peeve: Damon Knight was not setting himself up as the ultimate arbiter of “What is SF”. His quote was,

    Science Fiction is what we point to when we say it.

    and the distinction between singular and plural there is in fact really important.


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