Dechronization of Sam Magruder, The by Simpson, George Gaylord, 1996

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Told strongly in the Wellisan tradition, and highly reminiscent of Wells' own The Time Machine, George Gaylord Simpson's The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is probably something that Wells himself would be envious of. Simpson was a very well known evolutionist who helped advance that science considerably during his life. He also apparently was a fan of SF, and in addition to a number of scientific tomes, managed to squeeze in a single SF novelette sometime during his life. I have not been able to find out when exactly he penned the tale, but I suspect it was some time ago, what with its references to "scientifiction" and "rocket routes" between cities. Published originally in 1994, some ten years after Simpson's death, it has made a mark among Wells' and Simpson's scholars.

At a party one evening after the year 2162 a number of people gathered, among them the Universal Historian, who told a tale of a chronologist, Magruder, who succeeded in separating himself from the present, and launching himself backwards in time. Present also were a few others, including the Ethnologist, the Pragmatist, the Common Man, and several others, all of whom were referred to generically. The Universal Historian promised them all a fantastic tale, and urged them to return the next week to the next get-together to hear the tale. I told you it was done in a strongly Wellsian style, did I not?

Simpson did a magnificent job with the technologies in his story, though the bit on time travel was not with out its problems. Simpson created an odd system where the present and the past were two distinct universes, and to travel between the two required immense amounts of energy. As it happened Magruder, a chronologist, was trying to create a laboratory experiment to learn about the difference between the two universes, and accidentally sent himself eighty million years into the past. After the set up by the Universal Historian Simpson switches to descriptions of seven tablets created by Magruder which had recently been discovered stowed in his cave eighty million years prior. The bulk of the book dealt with two issues: Simpson's survival strategies, and finding answers to all those nagging little questions about dinosaurs that will never be answered by the fossil record.

You have no idea how disorienting it is not to know, even approximately, when you are living. I had already worked up considerable anxiety as to the time into which I had slipped, and this creature gave me (referring to a sauropod he had encountered earlier) a fairly good estimate. At least I thought that it did, although I have since decided that I was a few scores of millions of years off the mark. Here was one of the large sauropod dinosaurs, possibly a diplodocus. Their heyday was in the late Jurassic, perhaps 140 million years before 2162. So that, more or less, is where, or rather when, I decided I was. Later I saw so many species that I knew to be much later in age that I had to revise my estimate. This is certainly the late Cretaceous, not the late Jurassic, and only about 80, rather than 150, million years before the time from which I slipped. Evidently the sauropods survived much longer than I remember from my professional school days, or perhaps the paleontologists of 2162 have slipped on this point.

Magruder went on to answer questions that have been dogging paleontologists for over 150 years now, such as how smart were the large carnivores? What did the tyrannosaurs and allosaurs use their short arms for? What was the purpose of the hadrosaur's crest? Were dinosaurs warm-blooded or cold? What effect did mammalian population explosions have on the dinosaurs and other lizards? What colors were the dinosaurs? I will not answer any of these questions here, but I have a six year old boy and we delighted each other going through this book and talking about Margruder's revelations.

The herds of pentaceratops live in the valley the year around. The agile coelurosaurs, on the other hand, are seasonal visitors. They spend the winter here, and they summer in the highlands back of Coelurosaur Pass, which I have named for them. Each spring they migrate up through the pass. Each autumn they return. It is a grand sight to see the whole floor of the pass covered with their teeming thousands, all hurrying along in the same direction. The migrations provide two of the fixtures in my annual schedule. I go to see the spectacle and also because it is an opportunity to kill a dozen or so of the animals. Among the dinosaurs, they are my favorite prey. The meat is usually appetizing. The hides are light and supple, a quality unusual in the dinosaurs, most of which have skin like armor plate. The tendons are strong and easily worked, providing my best cordage.

Simpson also did a good job with his character's journey. Magruder was an interesting choice for a protagonist. He was introspective and very masculine, and spent a lot of time trying to figure the best way to help modern man from his own era. He was also inventive and foolhardy enough to try to make a go of it. One of the most entertaining passages concerns Magruder's discovery of how to avoid the larger predators, such as Tyrannosaurs. I'll let you all find this one out on your own.

For a non-genre scientific writer, Simpson did a passable job at world building. As I mentioned above, I have no idea when this thing was written, but I suspect that it was back in the Gernsback days. If it was then Simpson's vision of future society was even more remarkable. Unfortunately he did not give us too many details. This was a novella, after all, and the focus was on the prehistoric era. But the people in the twenty-second century were for the most part blended ethnically, with Mongolian and Chinese features predominating, women had positions of power, and they spoke a Pidgin English occasionally, preferring the dominant Swahili derived world language. All things considered, I was impressed with this work.

Copyright 2009, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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