Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kyi May Kaung's review of Stephen Baxter's Behemoth--

Fantastic trip, backwards or is it forwards, and to another planet, written in lyrical, descriptive prose.

I have never read anything by Stephen Baxter before, and how I got to this was from trying to find out what it must have been like for the first humans to cross the Bering Land Bridge from Asia into the Americas.  I expected no more than a rather insipid strained reconstruction of archaeological findings. 

Instead, I was taken on a fabulous ride.

Everything Baxter writes here is perfectly credible and logical, and it is all presented from "inside the head" of a major mammoth character.

In the time line, it is a bit like A Canticle for Saint Leibowitz, in that the 3 novels are  separated by aeons of time, yet all part of one Cycle, as the mammoths call it.

Baxter has created the mammoths own epic creation story, and it is told as the mammoths talk to each other, sometimes by stomping on the ground.

This novel creates so beautifully the meaning of the old adage "Elephants have long memories."  Perhaps it is easier for me to suspend disbelief, as I grew up on elephant stories, such as from the Buddhist jataka, where the Buddha was once an elephant king.  And in other incarnations, he was always surrounded by elephants and other animals.

I must say the mammoth characters are all superbly rounded, and much more believable than many homo sapiens sapiens characters written by some writers.

You can't help but root for Silverhair, Longtusk and Icebones, Silverhair's daughter.

The writing is very visual and descriptive, but you are never bored.

The landscape is part of the story, and details of landscape are given at the moment, for instance, that the mammoth characters encounter difficulties on their trek, such as glaciers, volcanoes, Blood Weeds and Breathing Trees.

And there are just not mammoths, but also mastadon(t)s, and differently evolved mammoths.

It is not just whimsical, and God-forbid, not cute at all, but very deep, and displays a deep sadness at what humans have done to the world and are still doing to it.

The humans are called The Lost, and Baxter has only one Neanderathal or Neandertal left.

The new humans he calls "Firehead", and in the second story, they grow more and more sinister and the politics and interpersonal relationships of Bedrock, Crocus, the Shaman and Longtusks become intricately interlinked.

There is a lot of conflict and violence.

Very little sex, as this was meant to be for a Young Adult audience.

He also knows a lot about elephants.

It gave me an idea to write--but I cannot talk about it here.

I am now a card-carrying Stephen Baxter fan-

Wow!  I don't understand why it has not been made into a movie, but I hope it will not be Disneyfied.  That would be almost as bad a disaster as the disasters portrayed in the three  novels.

Copyright KMKaung

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