“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth”
It’s a blazingly hot day, June 1993. I’m nine years old and this memory is the only one I have of that particular summer, although I can certainly fill in the blanks with memories from other years—swimming pools and sprinklers and summer camp enrollment designed to keep TV from melting my brain out through my ears. But those memories are generic. This one’s special.
The whole family’s going to the movies. Me, my mom, my dad, my brother. We pile into the car and drive down to the theater for the first showing at mid-morning, arriving nearly forty minutes early. We’re the only people in the theater for at first. This early-arrival-at-a-morning-show is a scheme of my parents, who frequently go to excessive lengths to avoid “the crowds.” (I won’t see the inside of an amusement park until I’m an adult for this reason.) We settle into the best seats in the theater, Cokes and popcorn at the ready, and wait.
The movie we’re waiting for is Jurassic Park.
There are a handful of movies I remember seeing in the theater, and Jurassic Park is one of the earliest, after The Little Mermaid. At nine years old, I was terrified throughout the entire thing, covering my eyes whenever I thought a dinosaur was about to eat someone, but when I walked out of the theater I was completely enamored. Jurassic Park was now my favorite movie; later, it would be my favorite book as well. I dreamed of becoming a paleontologist and wearing kicky high-waisted shorts like Dr. Sattler, and for the next few years, any trips to the dinosaur exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science were spent ogling up at the big T-Rex skeleton in the entryway, pretending I had a PhD and one of those brushes for dusting dirt away from bones.
Jurassic Park was the first science fiction property to capture attention and earn my love. Like others my age, I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (and putting my headband over my eyes so I could be Geordi), and as a child I caught Star Wars on TBS one dreary Saturday afternoon, although for years afterward I would confuse it with Cocoon. Science fiction novels weren’t really on my radar unless they made their way to the Newbery Medal nominee list. But Jurassic Park changed all that. There is a sense of wonder present in that movie which has stuck with me—remember the scene when Dr. Sattler and Dr. Grant see the dinosaurs for the very first time? I still remember the chill I got when I watched their expressions of shock and delight, and that’s the same feeling I get whenever I experience great science fiction, whether I find it on the page, on the screen, or in my imagination.
I originally intended to write this blog post about Dr. Sattler—how she was given the save-the-day scenes in the movie, and had to face down velociraptors and turn the power back on while Dr. Grant was tasked with the more nurturing role of caring for Hammond’s two grandkids. And that’s worth mentioning, although as a kid I didn’t admire her for being Action Girl and Subverting Gender Expectations. Rather, I admired her because she was smart, and pretty, and a scientist. She was the sort of person I wanted to grow up to be—the sort of woman I wanted to grow up to be.
And no, I never became a scientist. I became a writer instead, a science fiction writer. But I do think in some small way, Jurassic Park—and Dr. Ellie Sattler—helped me find that path. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.