on May 19, 2004
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!
on April 12, 2001
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.
on September 20, 2000
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!
on July 16, 1999
From page one, West of Eden is a book too engrossing to put down. The story of Kerrick, at least initially, resembles a more extreme version of James Clavell's "Shogun" - more extreme because Kerrick is a total alien in a society more alien to us than Clavell's Japanese: the Yilanè, with advanced biotech and a language far different from anything ever to form on Earth. The plot gets ever more addictive, until, regardless of anything more crucial, you'll have to stop what you're doing to finish it off; at the end, West of Eden will leave you having taken a side, and will keep you thinking and talking about what might have happened, what is to be, and the significance this holds to the world (and the prospects of bioengineering)... the mark of a piece of literature.
This is probably Harry Harrison's pièce de resistance - unless I find a copy of Make Room! Make Room! and conclude it's beyond even West of Eden, it's probably the best thing he's written to date.
on January 11, 2001
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)