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Scherzo with Tyrannosaur by Michael Swanwick

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Scherzo with Tyrannosaur

by Michael Swanwick

• Page count: 13

“Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” is an award winning 1999 science fiction short story by Michael Swanwick.
It is about the director of a dinosaur research center who holds a time-line-polluting fund raiser.

The story follows the director of Hilltop Station, a dinosaur research center temporally located in the late Cretaceous period. By using time funnels, a technology granted to humans by the enigmatic Unchanging, scientists are able to go back in time to do research. When Hilltop Station throws a $100,000 per plate fund raising ball, the director is kept busy trying to keep the patrons happy (including their inquisitive sons and mischievous daughters), deal with temporal get-rich-quick schemes and, most importantly, cover his own self-serving tracks.

I have liked all of the short stories I have read from Michael Swanwick, but this is one of my favorites. A deliciously twisted tale of time jumping, corrupt politics and meat eating dinosaurs – what’s not to love? This is one of those rare short stories that is fun to read and has the right blend of action, humor (albeit dark) and thought provoking science fiction ideas. A true gem this one – well deserving of all its rewards.

“Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” is reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite science fiction short stories: Ray Bradbury’s “The Sound of Thunder”. If you enjoyed that story, then you will probably like the more cynical tone and convoluted time twists in this one. This story, which takes its title from the scene where the orchestra is playing a scherzo while a tyrannosaurus desperately tries to break the window, does have some strong language and adult situations – so steer clear if you are offended by those things.

“Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” won the 2000 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. It also placed 3rd on the 2000 Locus Poll, 4th on the 2000 Asimov’s Reader Poll and was nominated for the 2001 Nebula Award.

The Cretaceous Ball was our big fund-raiser, a hundred thousand dollars a seat, and in addition to the silent auction before the meal and the dancing afterwards, everybody who bought an entire table for six was entitled to their very own paleontologist as a kind of party favor.

I used to be a paleontologist myself, before I was promoted. Now I patrolled the room in tux and cummerbund, making sure everything was running smoothly.

Waiters slipped in and out of existence. You’d see them hurry behind the screen hiding the entrance to the time funnel and then pop out immediately on the other side, carrying heavily-laden trays. Styracosaurus medallions in mastodon mozzarella for those who liked red eat. Archaeopteryx almondine for those who preferred white. Radicchio and fennel for the vegetarians.

All to the accompaniment of music, pleasant chitchat, and the best view in the universe.

Where you can find “Scherzo with Tyrannosaur”:
• This short story originally appeared in the July 1999 edition of Asimov’s Science Fiction.
“Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” is included in Michael Swanwick’s collection of short stories Tales of Old Earth .
• You can buy an electronic version of the short story at

Michael Swanwick is a prolific writer of science fiction short stories. You can read a short biography, as well as interview excerpts, on Locus Magazine’s web site.

If you liked “Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” you may enjoy The Dog Said Bow-Wow, another award winning short story from Michael Swanwick.