James Patrick Kelly

Think Like a Dinosaur

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Think Like a Dinosaur Summary

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American writer James Patrick Kelly’s science fiction story “Think Like a Dinosaur” was first published in a 1995 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction. The story concerns a teleportation device that malfunctions, causing a conflict between the human race and a species of dinosaur-like aliens.

Michael Burr is the sole human who works and lives on a specialized base, the Tuulen station, on the moon. The purpose of the Tuulen station is to transport interstellar travelers to distant locations in the universe using teleportation. The problem is that the mechanism for teleportation involves creating an exact copy of the individual on the destination planet and then exterminating the original version of the traveler while he or she is still unconscious. Other than Michael, everyone else who works at the Tuulen station is a member of a cold-blooded race of dinosaur-like humans called the Hanen. The Hanen are cold-blooded in many ways; they have no empathy for the original copies of the people who enter the station for “migration,” eradicating them without regard for the value of human life.

Humans know what they’re signing up for when they agree to be “migrated,” and so there are few significant arguments about how the system works. That changes, however, when Kamala Shastri arrives at the station with the intent of jumping to the planet Gend. During her migration procedure, the machine malfunctions; the duplicate copy of Kamala doesn’t arrive at its destination. Thinking that the procedure failed, the migration process is suspended, meaning Kamala’s body won’t be eradicated at the Tuulen station as it normally would. Then it appears that a mistake was made and Kamala was duplicated on the planet Gend.

The Hanen, meanwhile, are worried about the scourge of human over-population causing so many of them to escape the Solar System. That, combined with the unknown cosmic implications of allowing two copies of the same being to exist in the universe, prompts them to want to kill the original Kamala, even though she has already awakened. However, because they don’t want to cause an intergalactic conflict with the human race, they ask Michael to kill Kamala.

Initially, Michael agrees to do what the dinosaur-aliens ask. Unfortunately, once he meets Kamala, he realizes that she reminds him of his wife who, along with many other humans, died of disease as Earth ran out of resources and its ecosystems and civilizations devolved into chaos. This causes him to develop feelings for Kamala that make it difficult to carry out the Hanen’s orders, even though refusing to do so could cause the Hanen to, at best, prevent humans from using their technology in the future and, at worst, cause a full-blown war between the humans and the dinosaur-aliens.

Michael decides that the cost of letting Kamala live is far greater than the cost of letting one human die, especially one who agreed to let her body be eradicated. Michael lures Kamala into a room, promising her escape. Instead, he releases an airlock, causing her to be ejected into space through an airlock.

Two years later, Michael encounters Kamala again in his part of the solar system—only this time it’s a copy of a copy of Kamala that traveled from the sector of the universe where the Planet Gend is located. She recognizes Michael, remembering him from before the initial jump, and she accuses him of killing her original body. Michael denies this, but is secretly in agony over the murder he committed.

A harrowing tale of scientific ethics—or lack thereof—”Think Like a Dinosaur” was awarded the 1996 Hugo Award for Best Novelette and was included in multiple anthologies of the year’s Best Science Fiction.