August SFF Short Fiction: The Uncanny Dinosaur Issue

Today’s short fiction all comes from one place: the Uncanny Magazine dinosaur special issue! Most of you probably don’t know this, but growing up I was a dinosaur fanatic. I’ve still got a plastic T-Rex that lives on top of my bookcase. So when I heard Uncanny was doing a dinosaur themed issue, I was all over it.

“Give the People What They Want” by Alex Bledsoe

The framing here is of a police interrogation. Someone’s broken into a time-machine and gone back in time to get some very special dinosaur footage. I’d place this one at about the middle of the pack. It’s fairly well constructed and has some nice twists, but it doesn’t have much of an emotional punch or staying power.

“The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander

This story was a delight from beginning to end! It’s an original fairy tale that takes classic elements, feminist revisioning, and throws in dinosaurs to wonderful results. This is exactly the sort of story I desperately would have loved as a child, and I’m glad to have read it!

“The Emigrant’s Guide to Oregon, California, and the Unknown” by Brit E. B. Hvide

Written as a series of diary entries, this historical tale follows a disastrous trek through the American West… complete with the narrator’s encounters with a “strange bird.” It’s another middling story. Epistolary stories are always a hard sell for me, although I do like the idea of mixing historical fiction with dinosaurs.

“Bones in the Rock” by R.K. Kalaw

A story about dinosaur girlfriends is right up my alley. When the world was ending, the narrator bargained with the tar pit for ten lives — payment for prey given to it. She has ten chances to find her lover’s bones and finally reunite with her. Her search is carried out in an ungainly human form. “Bones in the Rock” is beautifully written, emotionally effecting, and a love story stretching across millennia. It’s another standout story, and it shows me that I need to read more by R.K. Kalaw.

“Nails in My Feet” by Mary Robinette Kowal

“Nails in My Feet” was hands down my least favorite story in the collection, only going to prove that I have a hit or miss reaction to Kowal’s work. Either I’ll completely adore her stories, or they’ll leave me cold, without much of an in-between.

“Nails in My Feet” is a short monologue by a dinosaur puppet whose glory days are behind it.

“Red Lizard Brigade” by Sam J. Miller

Remember how I mentioned that I liked dinosaurs mixed with historical fiction? Sam J. Miller does just that, giving the Soviet Union a secret dinosaur army. Also, being a Sam J. Miller story, it is wonderfully queer. The protagonist’s boyfriend has deserted the Soviet army, planning on heading to an American corporation. The protagonist has been given the task of tracking him down and dealing with him.

“Everything Under Heaven” by Anya Ow

A portal has opened up, and dragons have entered the world — what else would you call the completely unfamiliar, scaled creatures, some of whom fly? Kee is a chef, and she plans to cook a dragon.

For Kee, cooking is an expression of love. She clearly has a complicated relationship with her dead mother, the details of which become clearer as the story progresses. She also is hunting along with Sarnai, who must kill a certain dragon over a matter of honor.

I’d place this story in the second tier of “my faves,” below Bolander and Kalaw’s stories.

“By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speach” by Elsa Sjunneson-Henry and A. Merc Rustad

“By Claw, By Hand, By Silent Speach,” would also be a “second tier” story. I always love stories about cross-species communication, so it’s playing right into my interests. The protagonist is a deaf scientist studying a raptor. She believes that it is intelligent enough to learn ASL and she takes on the dangerous and secretive task of teaching it.

“You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me” by K.M. Szpara

This story made me think about Jurassic Park in a whole new light. In the book (and maybe the movie?) part of what leads to the disaster is the presence of unexpected dinos — they had been breeding even though they were created as all female. Like a species of frog whose DNA they were created with, they were able to switch sexes to continue to procreate.

When I read Jurassic Park in middle school, any connection between this plot device and the existence of trans people went right over my head, and I’d never since had reason to reflect. Until I read this story.

“You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me” stars Emerick, a young trans man, and son of the billionaire who’s stocking a private island with dinosaurs. He needs surgery for his dysphoria but doesn’t have the funds. His boyfriend suggests visiting his estranged father, who’s always been distant, caring more about his work than his child. But he’s also completely unwilling to recognize who Emerick is and continually misgenders him and insults him. Then Emerick finds that there are cages of dinosaurs who’ve spontaneously changed sex, all about to be euthanized. His frustration has been boiling this entire time, and he’s about to do something drastic.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Dinosaur special issue! It’s a rare event for me to read straight through a short fiction magazine issue like this, but it was well worth it. There are so many fantastic stories here, but my two favorites have to be Brooke Bolander’s and R.K. Kalaw’s.


7 Comments Add yours

  1. Tammy says:

    What a great idea, I love that these all sound so varied, and I’ll be reading a few of these for sure.😊

    1. Sarah Waites says:

      I hope you like them!

  2. Oh!! I read the Szpara story and did not realize that the trans dinosaurs were an element that came from the books originally — I thought it was something the author had made up as a thematic element for his story. INTeresting! I’m miles behind on my short fiction reading this month, so I still have only read like four of these. But I’m going to catch up!

    1. Sarah Waites says:

      The original book has this whole thing about how they filled in gaps in the dinosaur DNA with other animals, which included this sex-changing frog… leading to way more dinos than thought.

      I look forward to your next short fic round up!

  3. Oh my god I did NOT know they had released this????

    1. I literally just went and bought it immediately :’)

      1. Sarah Waites says:

        Congrats! I’m glad I was able to tell you about it.

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