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4.0 out of 5 stars Very creative look at an alternate Earth,
This review is from: West of Eden (Hardcover)
West of Eden (and the subsequent books in this trilogy) are an attempt to look at what Earth might have been like had the big asteroid not hit the planet 65 million years ago and wiped out the dinosaurs. It is a world in which mammals evolved alongside dinosaurs. That's not very plausible, taking some points off this attempt at alternate history, but the rest is quite interesting. The dinosaur line eventually produces a highly intelligent species that is female-dominated (not uncommon amongst dinosaurs) and features an emphasis on breeding and biological science rather than technology.
These dinosaurs are pitted against the human species that seems to have evolved, or at least gained a strong footing, in North America. When the dinosaurs (actually lizard descendents called the Yilane) build a new settlement in Florida, they run up against early humans. Armed with relatively advanced biotechnology, the Yilane dominate the humans (ustouzou). Add in tension from ice age climates and you have a pretty compelling setting, enriched by Harry Harrison's consultation with a linguistic expert who helped flesh out the Yilane language.
The story revolves around a young human, Kerrick, who is captured when he accompanies his father and other men on a hunting raid that is attacked and killed by the Yilane. Kerrick becomes the protege (and disturbingly more) of the Yilane Vainte, who is shocked by this talking ape and uses him to her advantage. When Kerrick finally matures, he manages to turn the tables and that's when the action really begins. Will Kerrick lead the humans against Vainte? Will she ever relent in her efforts to avenge his betrayal? Who will win when early man meets late reptile?
The story actually works quite well, in large part thanks to Harrison's depth of detail. The plot and characters are a little forced in places, making this seem a little clumsy at times. But the fresh approach generally pays off, again in large part thanks to the reality that Harrison is able to weave with his words. Overall then, this isn't the most fantastic piece of fantasy or sci-fi written. But it is compelling, the plot does move briskly and interestingly enough, and most important, it's fresh and detailed enough to keep someone interested if you think you'd like to know what things could have been like in an interesting, if not completely plausible, alternate reality.
5.0 out of 5 stars Far from Eden, near Hell.,
Alternate History stories are one of Harry Harrison's favorite subjects. He had already written three trilogies: "The Hammer & the Cross", "Stars & Strips" and the present one "Eden" series. He situates them in very different eras and contexts: Middle Age, Civil War and a world where dinosaurs are the dominant specie.
Harrison is a great narrator, skilled, with a fertile imagination and proposes the reader astounding scenarios.
The present one, assumes the extinction of dinosaurs hasn't occurred, so they are the Kings of Creation. Human are very tiny marginal actors, overshadowed by omnipotent dinos. The only reason why they had survived is that they dwell in America far from the Ylane dominions in Eurasia, but this is going to end. The dinos crossed the ocean, forced by a major climatic change and clash with the mammals. One human cub is captured and raised by the Ylane but some years after is freed by a hunting party.
Kerrick has been "civilized" by the dinos and is able to unite different scattered human groups to face up the menace.
This book and the two that follows tell us the story.
Harrison develops an absolutely different civilization: no fire is known to them; technology is based on biology; the Ylane are not able to lie, due to their very special way to communicate among themselves. All this issues implies an enormous amount of imagination to make all details coherent and believable.
Harrison also creates different languages for each human group, with their own linguistic structures and provides the reader with an ad-hoc dictionary.
This book may be read as a stand alone story, but if you are hooked as I was, you'll jump to read the next installments!
4.0 out of 5 stars one of the most creative books I've read in a long time.,
This book is one of the most creative and imaginative books I've read in a long time. The world of the Yilane is so well-constructed it feels real and convincing. The living cities of the Yilane are astoundingly described and constructed. The Yilane language itself is an act of considerable imagination. Harrison's prose style is not especially good and his characters, especially his human characters, seem a little flat, but his world makes up for it.
4.0 out of 5 stars What if dinosaurs had developed intellegence?,
What if the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs had never hit? Would they eventually become extinct anyway, or would one species become intellegent? Harry Harrison suggests what the world might have been like had the latter come to pass - his intellegent dinosaurs are the dominant species over most of the planet (Eurasia, it's implied). Meanwhile, intellegent mammals (i.e. humans, at the pre-Columbus America level of technology) have arisen in the Americas. The coming of an ice age drives these two intellegences towards each other, and this book is the first tale of their battle for supremacy.
The dinosaurs (Yilane) have an interesting technology, based entirely on genetic engineering (and the book was written before it was such a hot topic). Fire is unknown to them (having evolved/lived in tropical rainforests), as is all the associated technology (metallurgy, etc.). Their weapons, houses, even grooming tools are all animals especially bred for these purposes. The Yilane technology, mating habits, social order, and language are very well described and an interesting creation. Most of this is revealed through the eyes of Kerrick, a young boy captured and raised as a Yilane. He is eventually rescued by a hunter-gatherer band of humans and must relearn his roots. The second half of the book revolves around the now adult Kerrick leading the humans in battle against the Yilane. This consists of collecting allies amongst the other tribes, puntuated by short, violent confrontations with the Yilane army.
In general the book is well written, and as mentioned, the Yilane are fascinating creations, as are the human tribes and their customs. Unfortunately, the Yilane seem to exist mostly as the enemy of the humans - you never learn to sympathise with them and openly root for the humans.
It's interesting to note the similarities to the Vietnam War - presumably it's deliberate. The Yilane are a centralised, technologically advanced group, with control of the air (they have "spy birds"); they depend on their superior weapons to allow them to invade the human territory. The humans, on the other hand, are much like the Viet Cong - highly mobile, skilled in camoflage, controlling the night, and fighting for their traditional lands.
This book can be read either as the beginning of the series (there are two sequels) or as a stand-alone. Unfortunately, having read and enjoyed this first book, I have little desire to read the subsequent novels. Perhaps I just don't like these semi-prehistoric stories, or perhaps it's because I don't care for/about the Yilane.
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the Greats,
I picked this book up on a trip about 6 years ago. It nearly ruined the trip. I couldn't put it down. This is the first in a great trilogy. I am shocked that the second and third book are out of print! I only wish more people knew of this series and gave it a try. The only reason I give it 4 stars instead of 5 is because it has been so long since I read it. Pick this one up if you're thinking about it!
5.0 out of 5 stars great concept novel,
When I bought this, I didn't have very high hopes that it would be more than fun. Afterall, Harrison wrote the Stainless Steel Rat series, which is simple swashbuckling sci fi jokes.
But when I started it, I was immediately drawn in by the strength of the charaters, writing that was as beautiful as a statue, and unusually well developed concepts. His skill at plot and character development are wonderful.
This is a novel about the conflict between separately evolved intellignent species, which assumes that the dinosaurs never died out in EUrope and have come to colonise the Americas. The dinosaur mind is so alien, so subtle, so cogent, that I found myself completely believing in it, from the way that they communicated in the day through color changes in their skin (disallowing them to overtly lie) to the cyclical nature of their vision of the universe (the "egg of time"). Even their science and technology are different: they grow everything, so feel connected into the web of life in their own way. Of course, the humans are well developed characters as well.
This is a masterpiece of the genre of alternative histories. I am happy that it is back in print. Sci fi can be literature in the hands of a skilful writer. Warmly recomended.
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique idea + great storyline = awesome book.,
From a master of imaginative storytelling comes an epic tale of the world as it might have been, a world where the age of dinosaurs never ended, and their descendants clashed with the humans.
The story is set in the Americas, where a clan of native humans survives by hunting and fishing. Suddenly they clash with a new race that comes from across the ocean - the lizards who are a much more advanced civilisation, progressing not through technology, but through animal-breeding. They breed new kinds of animals, each one serving as a machine desined for a specific purpose.
A human teenager is caught by the lizards and survives in their city, first as an animal, then as a prizoner, then as a member of society. Still, his human instincts takes over and he betrays his masters, escapes and leads the humans to destroying the lizard city and driving them back across the sea.
The book is very hard to put down, it's a very exciting read. recommended to everyone! (5 points)
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding alternative future with intelligent dinosaurs,
An outstanding alternative future, where intelligent dinosaur and man collide.
When I bought this novel, I could not put it down. I really mean it, I started to read it one Friday evening, kept going all day Saturday (even when I had stuff to do!) to finish it that night. I tried to put it down, but I couldn't. Toilet breaks and food aside, I spent all day with this book (is that too much detail? What the hey, I'll leave it in).
This book must be the best written, researched, and thought about alternative futures ever written. What really impresses is the detail and the authenticity that Harrison brings to this alternative future. Things are so different that it really gets you thinking "what if...", and the story line is infectious, you just have to keep reading. The moment you put it down you start to wonder what's going to happen? It's almost painful to put down! Harrison is a master storyteller.
The story involves humans at a stone age/bronze age level, confined to North America. Mammals are abundant, but so are dinosaurs, but of the big and dumb variety. The humans don't like the dinosaurs, they consider them filthy and taboo. Over in Africa and Europe, however, there are no humans, and the dinosaurs have developed intelligence and also a sophisticated culture, far more sophisticated than the human one across the Atlantic. Here is where it gets interesting.
The Yilané (they're the dinos) culture that Harrison describes is totally different from any existing even now. Their speech is by means of sound, movement and colour of hands, arms, face and crest. Ability to speak their complex language is their main social determinant, only the best get to fully join society. Females are in charge, with the males confined to special compounds by birthing beaches, and they never join society. The males incubate the eggs, much as seahorses do, and rarely last past two or three seasons. Their technology is highly advanced, but is based on biology rather than physics, chemistry or engineering, as ours is. Everything is grown, from the cities (which span whole continents) to houses, to clothing. The Yilané have developed gene manipulating technology, and use it to grow things like giant Ichthyosaurs with large body cavities in their dorsal fins (kind of organic submarines!), and small frogs with hollow heads and large eyes that act as microscopes!
An ice age is coming, and the Yilané, who are cold blooded, are being forced south into Africa, their cities dying from the cold. One of the city leaders decides to move her city west, across the hitherto uncrossable sea, to North America. She sends her lieutenant, Vainté, a fearsome and ambitious yilané, to scout it out, form a beach-head and to sow the city seed. There she finds Kerrick, a young boy, who is taken hostage, and brought back to Africa (what a delicious irony, a white North American boy brought over to Africa as a slave to a terrible and alien culture!). There he learns the language, and becomes a kind of court favourite. Then he's brought back to America, where he sees humans again, but as horrible, filthy, dirty creatures, not like him, a clean, strong Yilané!
I'm sure you can guess where it goes from there, rediscovery of roots, torn between two cultures, neither fully understanding both, nor fully accepted by either. Vainté is the arch villain, and I found myself always worrying about what she was going to do next! She dominates the book. Another very strong theme is that among the Yilané a new religion has begun, with vaguely Christian overtones, but quite different too. This new religion is undermining the existing culture in all sorts of strange ways, and is persecuted by the Yilané social structure. Other features are the different tribes of humans the Kerrick's people discover as the flee from the Yilané, early farmers across the Rockies, and Eskimos further North (these guys are really cool, totally oversexed!). All of these forces interact, humans, Yilané, new religion, new technology, new ideas moving from one race to another, and produce fascinating results.
Harrison has done a fantastic job in creating an entirely new and quite attractive culture, with a very strong environmentalist tinge to it. I found myself wanting to be like them, and even speak like them! How sad is that? Still, that's a sign that this book profoundly impressed me, and not many do. What are you waiting for, buy this book!
Added bonus, there are two sequels. At least you won't have to wait a year and a half for the second book like I did!
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but needed to be longer,
West of Eden is a worthwhile read, as are all of Harrison's extrapolative histories. Unfortunately, it's begging for more detail: we briefly encounter a stone-age human culture that has domesticated the saber-tooth tiger, but never really get to know them or the intricacies of their culture; another culture domesticates and essentially worships mastadons, but we don't know why; despite extensive appendicies, we never reall y understand the genetic science of the Vilani. The clash of cultures and impact of new technologies and ideas on static societies are well-explored here, but were done better in his the Hammer and the Cross trilogy.
4.0 out of 5 stars Slave-boy makes good,
This review is from: West of Eden (Hardcover)
In a tried-and-true Harrison formula, the book's protagonist goes from slave-status to conquering hero in the course of the narrative, set in a world where the dinosaurs didn't go extinct, but mankind somehow managed to evolve despite this. This is a rather tenuous premise to begin with to anyone familiar with evolutionary biology, and it's not the only place Harrison's science is wrong--but this is generally forgivable in light of the fact that the book is still pretty engrossing. It's nice to see a fantasy/sci-fi novel that manages to tell a story without indulging overly much in needless descriptions of sex and violence--despite the fact that these things do occur. Suitable for most ages and most temperaments--but it is a bit long for an average paperback. New edition is out this year, with MUCH better cover-art than the original--can the interior sketches be better as well? Probably worth a look.
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West of Eden by Harry Harrison (Hardcover - July 1 1984)
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