Top positive review
A time-travel trip with dino-power and other surprises
on June 25, 2004
You could describe "Bones of the Earth" as "Jurassic Park" for the serious science-fiction reader. Michael Swanwick gives the reader not only a well-researched look at dinosaurs (mixed with plenty of pure speculation) but also a trippy story about time-travel and paradoxes. I've never encountered a time-travel story where the author is so free and fast with overlapping timelines and crisscrossing eras. The characters time hop so fast and frequently that the novel covers a period from the Triassic to eras billions of years in the future. Plus you get some juicy confusion such as characters meeting older versions of themselves, or celebrations where people from the future can ask famous authors to sign books they haven't written yet!
The time-travel method itself never receives close attention; Swanwick presents it, and then lets the story go along its bizarre, non-chronological way. In the mid-21st century, the government suddenly makes known its mastery of time-travel, and lets scientists from all times travel to stations placed throughout the Mesozoic to study dinosaurs. But where did time-travel come from, and why is it being used only for research purposes? These questions bother some of the scientists, and one in particular wants to shake up the time-travel scene in ways that could be dangerous. Meanwhile, fundamentalist groups plan terror strikes to stop the time-traveling project, and a large group of scientists finds itself possibly stranded forever in a rough part of the Cretaceous. Where is the way out of this confusing tangle of time streams...and who ultimately pulls the strings?
"Bones of the Earth" reads quickly, even with its cornucopia of overlapping stories and time periods. Swanwick holds it together with his fine eye for character, detail, and excitement. Each chapter offers tantalizing encounters with ancient creatures, new mysteries of the past, or weird experiences with the paradoxes of time travel. It's a romp, no doubt about it, and you'll have as much fun as Swanwick does with the possibilities.
Dinosaur fans (adult ones at least, due to some sexual content) will love this, and the hard-science reader will also find much to embrace. But there are enough energy and excellent characterizations to appeal to wide spectrum of readers. Think of as "Jurassic Park" with half the calories, twice the brains.