Prophet of Bones

Another retro review.

This one is from April 2, 2013, and the review copy came from Amazon’s Vine program.

Review: Prophet of Bones, Ted Kosmatka, 2013.Prophet of Bones

Yes, this novel really is set in a world 5,880 years old, a world much like ours – same countries, same religions. It even has Google.

And that’s one of the problems.

As a thriller, where the bones of Flores serve as a MacGuffin, this book works. Its dialogue is sharp. The descriptions of the sciences of genetics and physical anthropology are real and well done. It avoids one of the most annoying thriller clichés: the man and woman, strangers to one another, falling in love while running for their lives. And it shares a feature with many thrillers: we do not see how the Flores discovery affects the greater world because it is, in the end, just a MacGuffin.

And that points to where this book fails if you’re coming to it as a science fiction reader – which is to be expected since Kosmatka is primarily known as a science fiction writer and his 2007 story, “The Prophet of Flores”, forms the core of the first two parts of the novel.

In terms of the interior logic of the book, its working out of its premise that the young earth of creationists, with all species being the product of divine creation by an “architect”, as the science journals put it, is not very satisfying. I think, in the subtleties of how Kosmatka works with the themes of the creator’s relation to the created (and the created amongst themselves), the role of catastrophe and chance in life, Kosmatka does attempt to show, as he states in the publicity material that came with my review copy, that the world of the creationist is more disturbing than ours. I say attempt because I don’t think he does, in the end, work that notion out satisfactorily.

Those looking for an interesting thriller will probably be satisfied.

But the rest of this review will be for regular readers of science fiction with SPOILERS AHEAD.

First, there is the nature of this novel’s world. Socially and intellectually it doesn’t seem to deviate from ours until 1932 when potassium-argon dating begins to sound the death knell for evolution. The 1954 introduction of carbon dating finally kills evolution as an idea – except in the swamps of pseudoscience. All of the earth sciences and biology must contend with an earth less than 6,000 years old. Now, apart from heresy trials for some geneticists, the banning of certain books, and a vaguely described coalition of churches supporting some politicians, the world seems little different. The effects of removing evolutionary design ideas from various disciplines is totally ignored – after all, as I mentioned, even Google still exists. In the last three decades, political activities by churches (at least in America) are associated with a reaction against secularism and, often, the idea of evolution seen as its chief enabler. I think it unlikely that involvement would be maintained in the world of this novel.

Second, there is the secret of the Flores bones: they show a common ancestor of the Flores’ “hobbits” and man existing more than 6,000 years ago. So, obviously, either the dating methods and science of this world are wrong or … Well, this book opts for the “or” in a villain whose activities are so egregious, whose motivations ultimately stem from the old biblical puzzle of where Cain got his wife, that, I guess, we are to see a world still firmly based on religion as still having the evils of ours or worse. It seems that man, even here, will be seen as just another animal, at least by the villain. In the background are subtle hints of other possible explanations: multiple, competing creators or some sort of gnostic god of destruction or a god running some sort of design experiment lately. After all, the hero, in his boyhood, is accused of playing god in his mouse breeding. But, no matter which of the four you go with, none emotionally or intellectually convinced me this was a far more disturbing world than ours.

In the end, considered as a whole, I put this novel down as a failure – but an interesting one.


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