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Showing 1-10 of 12 reviews(2 star).Show all reviews
on July 13, 2004
I became interested in this book after seeing it on the "other books that might interest you" portion of Amazon's web site. As an avid follower of science fiction, particularly hard sci-fi, I was naturally intrigued by the plot. I'll start with the positive elements of this book.
First, the concept of time travel is a tough premise to work with, for any writer. And, for a newbie, Swanwick pulls this portion of the book off quite well. He intrigues the reader by showing possible paradoxes, causality infractions and plain and simple "fun" with temporal mechanics. The science behind this marvel is for the most part unexplained throughout the book - which is something most hard core sci-fi fans will continusouly thirst for.
Second, although I'm not a dino-guy when it comes to my fiction (unless you're talking about Jules Verne), Swanwick does a great job of tapping into the reader's inner-child (you know, the one who was fascinated by dinos as a kid). This makes the story more fun, and provides a few genuinely entertaining moments throughout the book.
Now for the negative.
What is with this author's fascination over the "F" word? I will never understand why writers feel the need to use this modern "uber-cool" gutter-mouth vernacular. It doesn't make the story seem any more "real" to me. I mean, we're dealing with live dinosaurs and time travel, it's not like the gratuitous use of this word will make me relate to the characters in a more meaningful way.
Then there are unnecessary sex scenes. Swanwick, on more than one occasion, goes from technobabble to cheesy romance novel in the space of a few, poorly written paragraphs. C'mon. We don't want this kind of junk messing up good sci-fi. If I want to read about group orgies, I'll buy an adult magazine. Please keep my sci-fi clean.
Overall, this book has a lot of wasted potential. This book could have been a great force to get kids interested in modern paleontology, but instead goes for cheap ratings among the sexually frustrated crowd. It's a good concept gone bad with inadequate writing experience and horrible language. I will not refer this book to any of my friends.
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on September 16, 2003
I think one either praises this book to the high heavens or one condemns it. I'm in the latter category. Despite the excellent quality of the writing--which made this book a quick read--the plot is all a jumble. At first it's a story about dinosaur hunters. Then it becomes a political/religious thriller involving sabotage by conservative religious terrorists (a subplot that is very quickly abandoned as if Swanwick didn't want to go there). Then it becomes a typical time-travel paradox novel with aliens in the future testing human beings "in the field".
The problem here is that a group gets stranded in the early Triassic and rather than face the ugly fact that they'll be stranded there forever, they set about to "do science". Meanwhile in the future, a rescue effort takes its time being mounted. And even though the future people literally have all the time in the world to rescue the stranded group, Swanwick stretches the novel out unbearably with unrealiztic characterization and wasted SF tropes. Then the conclusion is one of these: this is what happens to character A; this is what happens to character B; and so on.
Swanwick is a fantastic writer but this isn't one of his best efforts. I did like the Bird People though, particularly their noncommunicative arrogance.
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on May 9, 2003
The opening chapters of The Bones of the Earth are quite promising as a mysterious man gives a scientist a cooler containing the head of a dinosaur and offers him a chance to see them in person. What follows is a combination of time-travel adventure and speculation on the nature of dinosaurs. The time-travel parts of the novel are intriguing but unfortunately the novel is undermined by its anti-creation bias and an ignorant portrayal of Christians.
The villains in the story are one-dimensional, murderous zealots whose behavior and actions do not even remotely resemble orthodox Christianity. Nor is the debate between old-earth and young-earth creationists mentioned. Swanwick's heroes simply assume their pro-evolution stance is the only logical choice as they sneer at the Christian characters. Swanwick sets up straw man arguments and presents the strictly young-earth creationists in a negative fashion.
I found it difficult to care about many of the characters. However, two people, Griffin, the man "in charge" of the time-travel experiment and Salley, a scientist, were interesting because of their cryptic motivations.
Overall, I found the time-travel paradoxes fun, albeit a little confusing. Still, a bias against Christians and less than interesting characters left me disappointed with the novel.
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on January 5, 2003
I'd been holding Bones of the Earth in reserve as a treat for myself. Swanwick's other work, particularly Stations of the Tide and the delicious darkly twisted anti-Tolkienesque Iron Dragon's Daughter had given me reason to expect a treat when I finally started Bones. I expected depth, ambiguity, imagination and cleverness. Maybe even a bit of kink. I got considerably less than that.
Clearly, Swanwick did his homework for Bones. As has been stated in other reviews, this book revolves around archaeology and time travel, and the archaeology is certainly done well enough to convince this non-archaeologist. Indeed, Bones is fairly suffocated by the minutiae of archaeological practice. Obsession with detail also suffuses Swanwick's treatment of time travel: it seems that only stringent bureaucratic procedures and oceans of memos can keep things from becoming hopelessly fouled up as people move from one time to another. Unfortunately, there are no similar procedures to help the reader keep things straight, and I found temporal confusion settling in quite early in the book. Were Bones a better book, I would have been upset by this. As it is, I just didn't much care.
It's a pity that so little of interest happens amid so much detail. Sure the characters get to make detailed (so detailed!) observations of dinosaurs, and there's even a standard marooned-in-time subplot. But at no point do I care about any of the characters; they hardly seem human at all--the dinosaurs seem more warm-blooded.
One of the central plot elements is an ambiguous (and ambivalent) relationship between two of the characters. However, the characters are so bloodless and the erotic tensions between them so perfunctorily drawn that I could not work up the slightest interest in what this couple does or what happens to them. I _know_ that Swanwick can do eroticism better than this. Read Stations of the Tide if you doubt me.
As for the ending, well it was a real shrugger. That is, it made me shrug. I couldn't care less if the entire universe of Bones got sucked into a black hole. I must assume that Swanwick was shooting for a somewhat different effect.
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on May 28, 2002
"Bones of the Earth" is nothing if not ambitious. And for dino buffs, it's a lot better than the latest "Jurassic Park" installment. Unfortunately, the dinosaur scenes are the best part-perhaps because they're the most comprehensible. The rest is a convoluted exercise in time loops and causality in which near-future scientists are given the secret of time travel (by whom and why is a major secret) but are inexplicably limited to using it only for the study of dinosaurs. The book mixes themes of predestination and existentialism with a mind-blowingly time-looped story of lust, love, and betrayal that ultimately left me too confused to care.
Overall, the theme seems to be an assertion of the value of acquiring scientific knowledge (and by implication, other life experiences) even though death will ultimately rob us of our earthly gains. "Bones of the Earth" ups that ante with the threat of a fate worse than death: being time-looped into nonexistence, so that all you are and all you've learned never existed in the first place. For scientists, that would also mean the undoing of all their research. Horrors indeed!
The idea is more interesting than the execution. There are too many poorly defined characters to keep track of (along with their past and future selves), and villains (fundamentalist Christians opposed to time travel) whose motivations simply don't stand scrutiny. The payoff, when it comes, isn't worth the wait. The dino chapters are OK. For the rest, wait for Swanick's next book.
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on April 4, 2002
The challenge for dinosaur fiction is that a human perspective usually provides the best means for communicating the awe that the author feels for the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, to facilitate this perspective, you have to bring the dinosaurs to the present (a la JURASSIC PARK), or you have to travel back in time (i.e., LAND OF THE LOST). In science fiction, time travel is a tricky business. Many writers simply avoid it because it seems so far removed from today's technology. Other authors write time travel stories because time travel paradoxes make for an amusing gimmick.
In BONES OF THE EARTH, Michael Swanwick has handled the time issue deftly. The acquisition and management of time travel is an important part of the story, while still allowing for back-and-forth shenanigans and a survival-in-the-Mesozoic scenario that provides much of the books "action."
Unfortunately, Swanwick hasn't handled his characters so deftly. There's the earnest academic, the cigarette-smoking-man with access to profound secrets, the wambitious woman not above using sex to meet her goals. Swanwick errs further by creating a villain in the form of a ridiculously extremist Bible-thumper, which he than tries to counterbalance by allowing other characters token religious affiliations that turn out to be only relevant in the matter of determining appropriate burial rites.
Though his plot structure rather elegantly handles the many different time settings, it helps that every chapter has a date stamp, especially since several characters appear in each of the major time settings. Still, Swanwick's detectable satisfaction in how he's organized the story lines is irritating in the face of his uninspired characterization. He does make a couple of amusing jabs at scientist culture and academic hierarchies, while also offering up a discussion of leadership and group dynamics that is extremely interesting, even if it does devolve into male fantasy. Finally, Swanwick does a decent job with the dinosaur action sequences -- the "money shots" for a book like this -- making the prehistoric monsters interesting, even if the humans characters observing them are not.
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on June 9, 2002
This book started with so much potential and then quickly became mired in confusing timelines and characters.
The dinosaurs are the most interesting aspect but that is about it. The whole time travel issue becomes so twisted and there are so many jumps both forward and back that it's difficult to keep track of who is who and where. The fact that the author allows his characters to meet themselves as well as intearact provided they do not pass sensitive information and cause a paradox does not help. Not to mention that at least one paradox is allowed but never really explained.
There are some interesting theories tossed about as to dino evolution as well as their lives but it is really too little to save this book.
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on April 26, 2003
I've loved every Swanwick book to date, and tracked down every short story of his I could find. I've evangelized his work to friends. But this book seemed to be completely lacking that "magic" that makes his writing so much more than typical science-fiction. And that's what's so shocking about "Bones of the Earth" -- that it's such a typical, moldy piece of sci-fi. I only made it through the first 4 chapters before losing interest completely, which is UNTHINKABLE in a Swanwick story! I'm talking wooden characters and dialogue, weak humor, a straining plot, and a profoundly uninteresting, beaten-to-death premise. I hope this is just an aberration in an otherwise stunning career.
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on March 11, 2003
I won't rehash the story as, by now, you have read a few of the other reviews. Yes, Swanwick is a well awarded author. Yes, it would appear he did his homework. But Good Lord, this is not a good book. The writing is poor - Swanwick needs to brush up on his syntax and should use a dictionary along with his thesarus, and the editing is spotty at best. The characters change personality more times than Sibyl, and I'm still unsure of the story line, even though I'm now 2/3 the way through the book.
If you must buy this book, then wait until it shows up used somewhere at atleast half the original price. Otherwise, use your hard earned money to some better end.
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on December 11, 2002
There were some interesting ideas in this book but I just plain got bored. I couldn't figure out why the characters weren't worried about contamimating the Past and, when I did find out, it was like "Gee, none of this matters!"
Having realized this, I had absolutely no interest in the scientists "marooned in the past" storyline. I felt really disappointed.
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