Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Resnick, Mike, 1994

Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Resnick, Mike

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Mike Resnick in the late 1980's and early 1990's struck upon a broad topic for SF that he obviously was passionate about: East Africa. I say that because this particular author, who seemed to be equally well known for hackwork before, put out some amazing SF tales during that era. Despite his earlier reputation, Resnick seems to be one of the most honored writers in the history of the genre, and has been recognized as having the most awards of any genre writer, living or dead. Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge is one of his mid-career novellas and tells the tale of an anthropological expedition to Earth in the far future, after the death of mankind from the universe. Four out of five stars.

The expedition to Earth is made up entirely of extraterrestrials who are interested in the ancient history of mankind. At this point in future history humanity has been absent for approximately 5,000 years, but before we disappeared into history we colonized the galaxy, ruled with an iron fist over 1 million worlds, enslaved entire species and made war the likes of which the rest of the galaxy had never seen. It appears that save for humans the denizens of the galaxy were unmotivated and peaceful. Most of the party reveres humanity and the things we were able to accomplish, but recognize that the trail of blood we left behind may not have been worth the benefits of the empire we left as well. One of the anthropologists, He Who Views, is a scientist who has the natural ability of psychometry available to him. During the expedition he is presented with seven items dug from the soil of Olduvai Gorge by others in the party for examination. This novella is thus He Who Views' reports to others in the party. With his ability He Who Views is able to see how a ruthless breed of primate was able to overcome the race of gibbons that behaved most like other citizens of the galaxy and eventually evolved into humans, who were later unable to quiet the brutal primate instincts that pushed their forbears to the top of the evolutionary ladder. Just like Stephen King said in Cell, Resnick implies that the reason we were able to become the dominant species on this world was because we were the craziest beasts in the jungle and were willing to do whatever it took to win and defeat our enemies. This is not such a new notion for us, but remember that this story is told from the point of view of extraterrestrials who are shocked to learn that mankind's dominance was rooted in its animalistic pre-history. He Who Views also saw a history of slavery, racial strife, and extreme carelessness with the environment. All of these issues of course existed in the extraterrestrial's past, as mankind had brought these things to them with the various wars for territory that we had waged against them. At the end of the tale is a twist that was completely unexpected that leaves you with the feeling that history is about to repeat itself.....Again.

I always find anthropological tales some of the most interesting in the genre. Other writers who use this science as a basis for a genre tale, including Mike Resnick, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Chad Oliver generally do a pretty good job with it, especially Oliver. But the real strength of anthropology has to be its predictive ability for the present and even the future, and that is where Resnick really makes excellent use of the science. Combined with Resnick's love of the geographical area that provides his setting, and his apparently deep understanding of the cultural conflicts and motivations of the people there helps quite a bit in propelling this and his other Afro-centric work to lofty heights. This novella has been anthologized quite a bit, but it is also available in the used market as a stand alone publication form Axolotl Press in three different formats.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 4 star(s)

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