The Lost World


Stop wondering what would have happened if Hitler had won or if Lee had defeated Grant. Georgie Hatt-Cook of the BBC has set her sights on a bigger alternate-history question: What if the asteroid had missed?

The extinction of the dinosaurs was most probably caused by an asteroid hitting the Earth—but what would have happened if the giant space rock had missed?

For a long time it was thought that dinosaurs were a lumbering, cold-blooded extinction just waiting to happen. Even the word dinosaur has come to mean something that has outlived its time.

The scientific argument was that as cold-blooded creatures, dinosaurs would not have stood a chance of surviving an ice age….

But more recent discoveries, such as dinosaur fossils in both polar regions, reveal that these animals were far more adaptable than previously thought….The evidence points to them being fast-growing and, crucially, that at least some of them were warm-blooded to some degree.

Before long we're knee-deep in sci-fi speculations:

Adaptable dinosaurs had it all covered. Dinosaurs could have comfortably colonised many environments, from polar conditions to regions of rivers and forests, jungle and deserts.

A world with dinosaurs in it would be at the expense of most, if not all, of the mammals that we are familiar with today—and all that we rely on them for. No cows, no sheep, no cats equal no milk, no leather, no wool, no domestic companionship.

But milk aside, there could be perfectly suitable dino-substitutes of all kinds. A Protoceratops could be as farmable as a pig with the bonus of providing eggs. And an amenable Heterodontosaurus might make a perfect pet. Great with children.

They could even have adapted to current-day habitats, dining on suburban dustbins.

She doesn't explain how human beings would manage to emerge and build suburbs, but I'm not complaining. I'm still waiting for the David Irving school of paleontologists to weigh in and say the asteroid did miss and the great extinction never happened. Dinosaurs are so adaptable, they'd claim, that they live among us unseen. Maybe you're married to a dinosaur, raising a flock of half-dino kids. Hell, maybe you're a dinosaur and no one ever bothered to tell you. Better sleep with a gun under your pillow, just in case.

Elsewhere in Reason: Charles Paul Freund defended counterfactual history back in 1999. He offered some counterfactuals of his own a few years later.

Elsewhere not in Reason: A travel guide for alternate timelines. My favorite is still the one where Stalin becomes mayor of Chicago.

Update: I don't have to wait any longer. James Anderson Merritt informs me that the Extinction Denial movement is already active and peddling those very ideas, cleverly disguised as a series of detective novels.