Think Like a Dinosaur (1995)

Hartwell’s Year’s Best SF 1996 1/14

James Patrick Kelly’s Think Like a Dinosaur conjures up comparison to The Cold Equation, though falls far from doing either a good repeat performance nor injecting any good ideas of his own. The core premise is far-fetched to the nth degree and basically amounts to killing people to conform to some dinosaur-like alien tradition of harmony that is basically pointless. There’s no reason for killing the originals once copies are sent to the stars, apart from giving lip-service to the aliens, the moral dilemma is merely window-dressing for murder.

What’s worse, the story is well written and easily goes for the emotional jugular, bypassing critical thinking on the way and offering its manipulative and ultimately hollow plot twist. As flawed as the inspiration was, at least the moral dilemma felt real and not like some far-fetched problem with an easy solution (ditch the aliens and discover the transmission tech ourselves).

Think Like a Dinosaur makes you think there’s a deeper point, that it goes for a moral equivalent to “to survive you have to rely on your reptile brain, become something inhuman“. There’s a bit of it there, but Kelly’s entire story concept just doesn’t work. There’s no reason why multiple copies of one person shouldn’t run around, nor why the humans should rely on the dino’s tech in the first place. Which makes the murder that the main character commits even more pointless than he himself believes.

2 thoughts on “Think Like a Dinosaur (1995)

  1. So how do you deal with thirteen copies of the same person, each of whom claims to be the “real” one? Who gets to work the job? Who gets the be a member of the family? Who employs and supports the copies? You pass over the myriad difficulties such a situation would create by simply saying, “there’s no reason why multiple copies of one person shouldn’t run around, nor why the humans should rely on the dinos’ tech in the first place.” For one thing, humans don’t HAVE this tech. It’s clearly stated it’s far beyond human technical capabilities. Which is why humans have to obey the dinos’ arbitrary rules–the story itself says that there is not physical reason they can’t make copies. You accuse Kelly of not doing critical thinking when he’s already thought of all the things you accuse him of ignoring

    The fault in not in the story, but in your assumptions.

  2. Wow, are you really saying, because the situations does present a couple of serious problems that are, at the moment the story takes place, not addressed in any way, that the best course of action is murder the copies? That’s really contemptible.

    Actually, there’s an easy chain of accountability in the story itself. The original makes the decision to copy herself, go to the stars, etc. Each time someone makes a copy of himself, he should be accountable for that copy. You want that, then you have to shoulder the financial burden of two people running around. The social implications are more complex, I give you that, but if such a technology would be real, if it would be possible to copy people easily, people would do it and figure a way out to deal with it without murdering the copies.

    But what Kelly does is set up an seemingly impossible situation that can only be solved by one way. Seemingly, because the humans could say fuck you to the dinosaurs and their murderous ways. Some things are not worth it when the price is this high. And there’s always the chance that humans figure the dinosaur tech out, as it’s proven possible already.

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