Them Bones Hardcover – Sep 7 1989
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
Getting the download link through email is temporarily not available. Please check back later.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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?
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.
One storyline follows a 1929 archaeological dig in Louisiana targeting the remnants of a Moundbuilder Native American site. When they uncover a historically impossible horse skeleton, followed by a brass bullet cartridge, the race is on to figure out what's going on before the entire area is flooded. The second storyline (and the true heart of the book) follows Leake, a soldier sent from 2002 into the past to try and alter history so that the Third Wold War doesn't engulf the world. As with so many such plots, the timing is a little off, and he ends up in Precolumbian America, in the midst of the Moundbuilder area. The third storyline, written as memos and diary excerpts, follows the rest of Leake's unit, as they hop back in time to the same era and end up hunkered down trying to fend off (rightfully) hostile natives.
From what I understand, Waldrop favors these kind of "what if" scenarios, and does a ton of research to amp up the verisimilitude. What he's clearly less interested in is threading the three storylines together in a meaningful way. Each is compelling enough in its own right, but the archaeologists and other soldiers come across as mere afterthoughts to Leake's stranger-in-a-strange-land storyline. It's not the greatest writing, but I'm a sucker for these kind of time-travel gone wrong plots, so I had a good time with it. Diverting enough for the beach or poolside.