[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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Are the Quintaglios Too Human?

by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1999 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved

Late in 1999, Rob received an interesting E-mail asking why the Quintaglios are the way they are:

Dear Mr. Sawyer,

I have been very curious of your impression of dinosaur intelligence for some time now. I have read your dinosaur stories and I have to admit I am torn. Though you obviously show a deep and competent knowledge of your material, I wonder where you conceive your ideas of dinosaur intelligence. I'm sure I am not the first to state this.

I admire your talent, and do not wish to dismay you in any regard — being at the low level I am speaking from. Everyone knows you are a true gifted talent and should not be dampered. But I am curious of why you chose to send the dinosaurs on an anthropomorphic route. I know that it is very viable to believe any bipedal animal would create the same technology to adapt. But can you say that for the dinosaurs?

I tend to believe that the dinosaurs were the ultimate mix of every terrestrial animal class that existed on the planet. Hair found with tyrannosaur skeletons. Ossified tendons in hadrosaurs, similar to fish and crocodilians. Feather hypothesis on the dromaeosaurs, along with their hollow bones and breastbone structures. There are many other characteristics I think could label the dinosaurs as "very different" to say the least.

Look, all I am saying is that your dinosaurs seem very human. I doesn't mean they would be this way. I am curious why you chose this direction.

Rob's Reply:

There are two answers to your question. The first is this: the Quintaglio trilogy is only in part a series about intelligent dinosaurs; it is, just as much, a (sometimes satiric) commentary on the human condition. Fossil Hunter, for instance, is a morality play about the Roman Catholic Church's stance on birth control.

Although there are some charms to writing nonhuman psychologies/biologies just for the sheer intellectual exercise of it (see, for instance, my Hets in End of an Era or my Ibs in Starplex), I do believe that science fiction serves a wider purpose, specifically related to providing insights into what it means to be human. I didn't want to write three books that were only exercises in speculative biology; bluntly, that would have been an insufficient use of the three years of my life I spent producing the trilogy.

The second answer is this: the Quintaglio trilogy was not an easy sell (five publishers were offered the chance to buy the first novel, and only one wanted to buy it), specifically because no human characters appear in it. Besides Robert Asprin's Bug Wars series, there are virtually no other series of SF novels that have no human characters in them at all (much more common is the model, used by authors from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Pierre Boulle to C.J. Cherryh of a lone or few humans thrust into an alien milieu).

(Of course, in retrospect, the Quintaglio books were a substantial hit with critics and readers alike; were hailed by the New York Public Library; received starred reviews in major publications; and won or were nominated for major awards in the United States, Canada, and Japan — but none of that erases the difficulty the books had in first finding a home.)

Marketplace realities must be dealt with. Human readers want human or at least psychologically familiar characters they can identify with. The kind of totally alien dinosaurs your propose might make a fine short story, but they would not have been salable as even a single book, let alone three books.

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