A Gun for Dinosaur by L. Sprague de Camp

Using a time machine for a safari trip to prehistoric times, especially the time of dinosaurs, is a well known science fiction trope. This story from 1956 is a classic example of this.

The story is told by a time-travel hunter, who runs a small business taking customers back to prehistoric times to shoot extinct species – like dinosaurs. He recounts a specific trip where he took two very different men back in time to hunt dinosaurs. A small successful businessman, August Holtzinger, who wants to prove to himself and his fiancée that he is “man” enough to take down a big animal. And Courtney James – a hot tempered playboy seeking thrill and adventure. On the trip James acts totally irresponsible shooting everything that moves, Holtzinger gets nervous and he soon questions whether the trip was such a good idea. He could settle for just a minor hunting trophy while James wants the big dinosaurs. And the tour leader just tries to get everyone out alive. Unsurprisingly things go horribly wrong. Suffice to say without spoiling too much – the usual time-travel paradoxes also comes up in the end.

This story is entertaining and pretty straight forward. It has all the classic archetypes for a hunt-in-the-wild story with the levelheaded leader that does things against his own better judgement, a scared passenger regretting even coming along and the hothead causing trouble with his stupid behavior. Especially the last part makes the story less enjoyable for me. I am generally not a fan of stories where the action is driven forward by dumb decisions. Not because everyone is always rational in real world situations, but it is just more interesting to read something where the characters ends up in dangerous situations despite doing most things right. The leader even had the “this is a bad idea” internal dialogue from the start, but went on anyway. Still, it is an important classic for the genre – especially when it comes to dinosaurs and time-travel.

Read in The World Turned Upside Down
First published in Galaxy Science Fiction, March 1956
Read the story at baen.com
Rating: 2+