Triceratops Summer by Michael Swanwick
Genre: Science Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 Rating
Why did the triceratops cross the road?
About the author:
Michael Swanwich is an American writer of novels and stories who has received the Hugo, Nebula, Theodore Sturgeon, and World Fantasy awards for his work. His stories have appeared in Omni, Penthouse, Amazing, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, High Times, New Dimensions, Starlight, Universe, Full Spectrum, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. Many have benn reprinted in year’s best anthologies, and translated into several foreign languages. His books include In the Drift, an Ace Special; Vacuum Flowers; Griffin’s Egg; Stations of the Tide; The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, a New York Times Notable Book; and Jack Faust. This story was first published by Amazon Shorts in 2005.
When you see a time-travel story with a dinosaur in the title you would most likely expect the story to be about either humans going back in time and having to fight off/learn to live with dinosaurs, or that somehow the dinos came to the present and are now wreaking havoc and people either want to kill or protect them. That is not always the case though. Sometimes, dinosaurs are used a backdrop and tool for the author to tell their message.
Our narrator is driving to work along with his neighbor, Gretta, when he sees off in the distance, a herd of triceratops. After gawking, and watching Gretta yell the creatures for making her late for work, a young man working for the Institute for Advanced Physics comes to ask to them to please be quite and try keep this a secret. The reason the triceratops are here was because of an incident down at the Institute.
Gretta, still in a rush, tricks the nervous you man into giving her his car so she leave and get to work. Our narrator kindly offers to drive him to a nearby bar so he may call for a ride. While at the bar, our narrator has conversation with the young man, whose name turn out to be Everett, and gets told some secret news. After this conversation, our narrator goes out to the bank, takes out a second mortgage, buys the biggest ring he can find for his wife, and says where ever she wants to, he can have her there tomorrow.
Everything about this story circles around that conversation. The only information we have is that it ended with the narrator asking, “how long?”, and then with Everett replying, “three months”. Swanwick doesn’t directly reference that conversation afterwards, but based off of our narrator’s reactions after that convo, him and his wife’s actions later on, and somethings Everett says later, that conversation was clearly something life changing and top-secret. We don’t find out what was said in that conversation until the end of story, and personally, I couldn’t guess what it was until then. I won’t say what my theories were (because then you’d know what it isn’t), but when it was finally revealed, all of character’s actions made sense.
As you should have guessed, despite Everett’s wishes, the herd of roaming triceratops was not kept secret. As nice touch, I thought, was how Swanwick able to show varied the reactions to an event like this would be. Our narrator feels like a blue-collar average Joe, who has that “whoa, that’s cool” reaction, but it not overly shocked and awed; Gretta is the type who doesn’t give a damn about this these things, because all they are doing is causing inconveniences to her life; other people can’t help but pull up and start taking photos. Then as news of the of the triceratops spread, there is mass new and media, business looking to make a profit off them, and then even some of the triceratops being shipped off to zoos. It created just enough of picture that you see how the world was taking things outside of our narrator’s life.
And for our narrator’s life. Well, that is where the simple and beautiful message of the story is hidden 🙂
Spolierific Speculations: (Highlight to read)
My theory was we have “three month” unlike the world blew up. That accident/incident at the institute, that caused the dinos to appear, I thought it was like melting down and was going to cause some time of nuclear explosions or something. Travel back in time to fix it, does seem like the obvious idea now though Lol
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I thought Michael Swanwick has some great writing. Our narrator is great character, and his average-joe personality fits perfectly into the story. While it is a fairly simply story, it leaves behind an important message about life that I think people really over look nowadays, and Swanwick uses the time-travel and dinosaurs very efficiently to get that across.
I have complained in the past about missing the connection to the message authors are trying to convey, or that time-travel wasn’t used properly to help get that message across, but here, there is no of that. Triceratops Summer is an excellent example of how to write a time-travel story where time-travel isn’t the main focus.
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