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Them Bones [Hardcover]

Howard Waldrop


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Book Description

Sept. 7 1989
Madison Yazoo Leake, the hero of this science fiction novel, attempts to travel from the 21st century to 1930's Louisiana in a bid to prevent the outbreak of World War III. Instead he is transported to an alternative Earth, where history is twisted, and where he fears he may be stranded.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If this doesn't get you thinking, nothing will! Aug. 22 2000
By "judithb" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Unknown Binding
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.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Howard Waldrop hits his stride April 21 2003
By T Galazka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Coming as I do from a culturally impacted area (the lands behind the Iron Curtain were no greenhouse for writers or publishers, I can tell you - they still aren't), I only read a few of Mr. Waldrop's stories before hitting on that book and its prequel of sorts, "The Texan-Israeli War: 1999". Pure accident, that. And while the TIW1999 was a badly aged concoction, "Them Bones" simply blew me away. The story moves fast, and moves you deep, and even if I saw some similarities between it and Silverberg's "House of Bones", the dates of publishing are unequivocal: if at all,it was Silverberg who was influenced by Waldrop.
Every tale of Waldrop's that I've read afterwards just reinforced my feelings - this is a man to watch. And it's a pity indeed there aren't as many of us watchers as the man deserves.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't quite measure up to my expectations Nov. 13 2009
By Cathy G. Cole - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First Line: "There's a horse in the small mound," said Bessie.

It's 1929 and archaeologists are digging in a mound in Louisiana when they find something very exciting: the skeleton of a horse. What's so exciting about that? From the skeleton's position in the mound, it was in America a few centuries before it was supposed to be. Then the archaeologists dig a little more and find something even more curious: the cause of the horse's death--a cartridge from a rifle.

Them Bones sticks to the Moundbuilder culture of prehistoric America, but the story is told from differing viewpoints: the 1929 team of archaeologists, a scout sent back to the wrong time to prevent World War III, and the group of soldiers who followed him.

The story moves quickly--too quickly--and the chapters involving the group of soldiers tend to be downright confusing. The 1929 group of archaeologists and the scout had the most interesting stories to tell, especially Leake (the scout) who became well-acquainted with the group of Indians he found himself amongst. I've visited Cahokia, the one remaining supreme example of Moundbuilder culture. It is awe-inspiring, so I enjoyed Waldrop's choice of setting and the Indian characters Leake met.

The bones were there for a wonderful book, but they just weren't fleshed out. The setting was a winner, but the pace was too fast and the characters not fully realized. I'm glad that I read the book because it encouraged me to go online and do a bit more research on Cahokia, but Them Bones left me feeling like Oliver Twist. Please sir...couldn't I have had some more?
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Two stories, half a book Sept. 26 2011
By Norman Brenner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Two stories about the fate of time travelers are clumsily slapped together in this book. Both are fleeing into the past from a world ravaged by war. One group, of heavily armed soldiers, is badly defeated by pre-Columbian tribes, and their bones are found by modern archeologists in Lousiana. The other, a single scout, arrives at the same location and date, but inexplicably in a parallel world where Europe never developed civilization. The two tales never make contact after the initial escape, and might as well have been two separate publications on the same theme. This is the "Perez-Reverte" syndrome, of two unrelated narratives in a single "novel". The first story is hardly more than a dissertation on how archeologists dig up a site, since it has no action and no suspense. One star for the detailed research. The latter story, of how one man can peaceably fit into a native culture, has some interest, but should have been longer, so that it could have explored the interactions among the locals and the visiting Arabs and Vikings. Three stars for it, making an average of two. This is early work, and Waldrop has done much better in his later short stories.
5.0 out of 5 stars One of two books I'd save if I had too June 5 2014
By Rincewind - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The year was 1985 (not 1955 as Amazon asserts, nor 1989 as another reviewer states) and I was in this small combo book/video store on Antoine Rd. in Houston, Texas. Tor had just put out the first two paperbacks in their new "New Writers" series, or as they called it "The New Ace Science Fiction Specials". It was meant to be a series highlighting new authors in the genre, but as far as I know, these were the only two books ever published (a point of pride with Howard). They both looked interesting, so I bought both of them. The first book was William Gibson's "Neuromancer", the other was this one. I found both books to be unique and a departure from the usual sci-fi fare, however it was this one that really stuck with me.
I normally only read a book once, because i tend to remember too much of the story to make subsequent re-reads unbearable. This one I found a bit different and have probably read it a dozen times over, though not always as the author intended. Essentially, this is 3 lightly interwoven stories, connected together only tangentially by that wonderful sci-fi concept of "time travel" -- here used as a literal deus-ex-machina. Two of the stories take place in the same time-lijne, and the third taking place in an alternate time-line where a number of key events in history never occurred, placing the protagonist in a very interesting and different "America". I found the entire story engrossing and well woven together and none of the individual story lines really lacking in concept and excitement.
The book opens on an archeological dig in the mid-west where he scientists are desperately trying to complete their work before the rains and new dam project erase their site from history. It is important to remember this fact throughout the entire book as I believe it underlies one of the themes that Howard was addressing. The second story is about a group of soldiers sent into the past to prevent a 3rd world war, way overshooting their mark and the results of their action. The final story is the one of the soldier's advance scout, who apparently did end up in the right time, just not the right time-line.
Now, each story could have been told as its own short story, and indeed they each work perfectly fine as their own standalone stories, none needing any support from the other stories. How can I say this? Well about 5 years after having last read it, I went back and did a little experiment to test that theory. Luckily each chapter is headed by the story-line title which made it easy to do. I was very impressed with that feat, so I decided to try another experiment: I read the book back-to-front, chapter by chapter. Amazingly, the story still works well that way. It's an amazing accomplishment.
My title says, this is one of two books I would save if required. Guess what, the other isn't Neuromancer. (If you must know, it's "The Unadulterated Cat" by Terry Pratchett.

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