“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
Cover Price: $7.50 U.S., $9.99 Canadian
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.
Swanwick handles the dinosaur/human interactions well, and he has fun with the paradoxical complications raised by time-travel.
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.
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.