“Triceratops” by Kono Tensei is story #5 of 52 from the anthology The World Treasury of Science Fiction edited by David G. Hartwell (1989) that my short story club is group reading. Stories are discussed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. “Triceratops” was first published in the August 1982 issue of Omni.

On one level, “Triceratops” isn’t much of a story. Nice enough. Sort of a bland version of Bradbury. A dad and his son are out biking and they see something out of the ordinary. Eventually, they learn it’s a triceratops, and conclude they alone, for some reason that’s not clear, can see into another dimension. Father and son bond over secretly watching a Cretaceous landscape superimposed over their Japanese subdivision.

David Hartwell’s aim is to showcase science fiction from around the world in this anthology, but hopefully, this story isn’t representative of the best SF from Japan or the world. And I’d hate to think Hartwell picked it because he characterizes Japan as a country of big monster fans.

It’s a challenge to find an essay hook for this story. I think I’ll use a video I watched from the Outlaw Bookseller (Steven E. Andrews) this morning on conceptual breakthroughs in science fiction. Andrews begins by talking about the first lines of classic science fiction stories.

The ones we remember have great first lines that announce a paradigm shift. His first example was from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” The second was from Christopher Priest’s The Inverted World, “I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.”

Unfortunately, Tensei begins his story with “The father and son were returning from cycling.” That’s a rather mundane first sentence. Tensei waits for quite a few paragraphs before bringing on his paradigm shift.

Andrews then goes on to say the best SF stories have a conceptual breakthrough that comes near the end that inspires a sense of wonder. “Triceratops” does depend on a conceptual breakthrough, but it’s in the middle. The father and son decide if they think that the Cretaceous can intersect dimensionally with the present then they can see the two together. The logic of “if you believe it to be true it will be true” isn’t much of a conceptual breakthrough, although the film version of The Wizard of Oz pulled it off nicely.

This is the first story I would have left out of this anthology. Unfortunately, it was the first example of world SF. Not a good start.

I recommend watching the whole video, Top 10 Science Fiction Conceptual Breakthrough Stories: The Elements of Science Fiction Part 1. I should use it as a foundation for evaluating the stories in The World Treasury of Science Fiction. However, it might be aiming too high for the average science fiction story — or should every science fiction story aim to hit one out of the park?

James Wallace Harris, 5/15/23

One thought on ““Triceratops” by Kono Tensei

  1. But that’s my whole point about translation. You’re not reading what the author was trying to convey, and it’s especially the tone or impact that may not come through as intended. Take the first sentence, which you quote. Sure, it comes across as bland and flat in English, but there may be an untranslatable music in the original Japanese version.


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