When I first read “Think Like A Dinosaur,” by James Patrick Kelly, and put the book down, all I could think was, Wow. What a wrenching story.
It’s framed by Michael Burr greeting Kamala Shastri as she returns from another planet. Things didn’t go so smoothly when she left. He remembers how they talked a couple years ago, about nothing in particular, their conversation filled with wonderful clue-ins and throwaway details, discussing anything but what was about to happen.
Kamala is to be transmitted using technology provided by the Hanen, intelligent aliens who happen to look just like T.rexes. They are the “dinos”, who scorn humans for their babyish emotions. Michael is pretty much an intern, there to prove that humans can be like the Hanen. It’s his job to push the button that completes the process, and as they talk, you realize what that really means.
We’re talking “Cold Equations” territory. But this story has more heart. Michael and Kamala avoid the truth, fight against it, laugh at it, and finally accept it.
This is, by the way, the title story of a collection. The settings leap forward to a SF future and back to contemporary, but always in New Hampshire, near as I can tell, and the main characters are nearly always a man and a woman. Several have such a similar, bleak tone, that reading them in succession is like reading the chapters of a disjointed novel. And then you hit a story that takes you to yet a new place.
I believe it’s out of print, but the book is worth tracking down. Failing that, there’s a decent adaptation of this story on Outer Limits.