Bones of the Earth

“You asshole. This isn’t the way it’s done. You were supposed to write up a report afterwards, and forward it to me the day before….”

Title: Bones of the Earth

Author: Michael Swanwick

Original Publication Date: March 2002

ISBN: 0-312-87692-0

Cover Price: $7.50 U.S., $9.99 Canadian

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Near-future paleontologist Richard Leyster meets a man who hands him the head of a freshly-killed stegosaurus. After poking fun at the premise of Jurassic Park, Leyster leads us into Bones of the Earth‘s complex, time-warped plot. It turns out that beings from the distant future have given time-travel to humans so that we can study dinosaurs, but also so that we can serve some other purpose, information on which our sponsors are unwilling to share.

High Points:

Swanwick handles the dinosaur/human interactions well, and he has fun with the paradoxical complications raised by time-travel.

Low Points:

I applaud Swanwick for developing an explanation for his bizarre premise that actually makes sense, but it remains an anti-climax, and far less interesting than the events that take the reader to it.

The Scores

Originality: 4/6 Dinosaurs? Time-travel? None of this is new. Swanwick covers familiar territory cleverly. His handling of the time-travel bureaucracy works well. Forget Trek‘s Department of Temporal Affairs; here we have fundraising, shmoozing, timewarped memos, and all of the staggering banalities of office politics set against, well, dinosaurs and time-travel.

Imagery: 5/6 The dinosaur parts are believably rendered.

Story: 4/6 Again, Swanwich handles the story competently. I’m not certain there’s much here for people who aren’t already interested in either time travel or dinosaurs, but that’s a sizable market within the SF readership.

Characterization: 5/6 The major characters are reasonably well-developed. The motivations of some characters seems odd, to say the least. True, not even time-travel would sway Creationists from their beliefs, but I had trouble believing in the Deep Creationist character. He seems to exist only to complicate the conflict and make a satiric point.

Emotional Response: 4 out of 6. The best portions of this book work well. Leyster’s encounter at the Undersea Ball is memorable.

Editing: 5 out of 6. Swanwick writes well, and he kept me turning the pages. I could’ve done with fewer long-winded “As you know Bob” speculations on the behaviour of dinosaurs. At the same time, these are interesting speculations.

Overall Score: 5 out 6.

In total, Bones of the Earth receives 32 out of 42.

Additional Notes and Comments:

If you leaf through this site, you’ll find reviews now of all 2002 Hugo-nominated novels. My first vote goes to China Mieville’s The Scar, far and away the best-written and most imaginative of the lot. It’s not pure science-fiction (though it gives a Lovecraftian-like explanation for magic), but it contains many speculative scientific elements, and many of the nominees in other categories are fantasy.

Bones of the Earth is a contender for my second vote.

I hope to review the nominated short stories sometime in July.