Why Howard Waldrop isn't revered as one of America's greatest authors is something I'll never understand. I guess it just could be that the way he rewrites history is just not to everyone's taste, but I can't believe this book is "Out of Print" when so many other less worthy tomes litter the shelves and bargain boxes of our bookstores. I was lucky enough to find this in a secondhand bookshop while on a trip to Melbourne almost six years ago.
In 1929, a horse skeleton is found in a mound on a dig in the Louisiana swamp. No problem with that, you might think, but the mound pre-dated the accepted time when horses were introduced to America. However, the mound contained something even more anachronistic; the thing that killed the horse - corroded by time - a brass rifle cartridge!
This is a story of time shifting, what could have happened and what the consequences could have been. From the bombed-out, radiation drenched 21st century (this book was written in 1989), Madison Yazoo Leake, a member of the Special Group, is transported back in time in an attempt to stop the human species dying out completely. Leake thought he was entering 1930's Louisiana, but instead journeyed to a world where Arabs explored America, the Roman Empire never existed, and the Aztec empire extended to the Mississippi. And his back-up never arrived.
Although the concept of future humans backstepping in time to save the human race has been handled many times by many authors (the last one I read was Orson Scott Card's "Pastwatch"), Howard Waldrop gives it the spin only he can.
I live in an ancient country which accepted history tells us was only recently (212 years ago) settled by Europeans, but where someone thinks he's discovered ruins of a thousands-of-years old Phoenician harbour in Queensland (maybe he's a nut, who knows?), where people in Victoria are seaching for the "Mahogany Ship", supposedly the wreck of a Portuguese ship, that when documented by white settlers in the early 1800's was already more than 200 years old. Maybe they're all nuts, but the story is now almost 200 years old itself. The latest excavation in the area revealed a piece of several hundreds of years old European oak "driftwood" 12 feet under the dunes - anachronistic enough in itself to be further investigated, I would have thought.
Howard Waldrop had nothing to do with either of these stories, but they are almost worthy of him. This world is a strange place, and it gets stranger with every discovery. Who knows what could have happened, what really happened? Howard Waldrop is the very best at asking and answering these questions. That's why I love this type of speculative fiction.