27 June 2012

George Gaylord Simpson, The Dechronization of Sam Magruder, 1996

Simpson was the most famous paleontologist in the world with a specialisation in the early period of when dinosaurs and mammals co-existed, so with the posthumous publication of Magruder he surprised everyone with what is essentially a short but very competent science fiction novel in which a 22nd century time experiment throws a chronologist back to the Cretaceous Period. It was probably written for Simpson’s own amusement in the 1970s, given that that decade is bracketed by a 1970 theory on the possibility of warm-blooded dinosaurs (something that Simpson disagreed with) and the lack of any mention of the ‘asteroid impact’ cause of their demise, a theory which first surfaced in 1980. Magruder is very much in the reliable H.G. Wells Time Machine tradition, and the novel comes with an introduction from Arthur C. Clarke that puts the novel in its science fictional context and an afterword from Stephen Jay Gould that does the same for it paleontologically, and Gould also demonstrates why there’s far more going on in the novel than you thought. An unexpected find, and a good, quick read.  PY


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