Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kevin J. Anderson and Gregory Benford: Mammoth Dawn

Kevin J. Anderson
Gregory Benford
Mammoth Dawn

This is a rather unusual book.  The core is the novella, "Mammoth Dawn," a collaboration by Gregory Benford and Keven J. Anderson.

Husband and wife geneticists, Alex and Helen Pierce, have developed a method of extracting DNA from the preserved remains of now extinct animals.  On their ranch in Montana, they have brought a number of extinct species back to life:  dodos, moas, mammoths, and saber-toothed tigers.  Others are at the development stage.

Of course, there is opposition.  One group, the Evos, argue that it was God's plan that these species went extinct and that the Pierces are violating that plan, usurping God's prerogative to decide what species live and which ones die.  In addition, it becomes a political, as well as a scientific and religious issue, and Congress becomes involved.   Some proposed legislation would stop such research.  The Pierces have to defend themselves on two fronts, a dangerous situation to be in.

Unfortunately, the Pierces make a mistake and underestimate the protestors camped outside the ranch's boundaries.  One night they pay for this when the Evos mount an armed attack, with disastrous results for the Pierces and their dreams. 

The novella, though, is just one of six parts of this book, as can be seen by the "Contents" page.

A.  "Introduction:  Cloning Mammoths"

The genesis of the novella, "Mammoth Dawn," was a conversation between Keven J. Anderson and Gregory Benford, inspired by the film Jurassic Park, about the possibilities of cloning dinosaurs. 

B.  "Mammoth Dawn: The Original Novella"

The novella as published in Analog in 2002. 

C. "Mammoth Dawn:  Full Treatment and Proposal
Benford and Anderson had decided that the short story wouldn't do justice to their thinking on the topic, so they planned  to expand the work to novel length.  What follows is their development of the ideas about cloning extinct species and a proposal for a full-length novel.

 D. "Overview"
    "Scientific Basis--Why Mammoths? Why Now?
      Self-explanatory-- four pages

What follows is an explication of the proposed novel.
E.  "Prologue--The Hunt"
     "Part I--Mammoth Ranch"
     "Part II--The Resurrection Preserve"
     "Part III--Survival of the Fittest"
     "Part IV--Pleistocene Rules"

Part I is an expansion of the novella while the following three parts relate the aftermath of the attack on the ranch and its consequences.

The last section of  Mammoth Dawn:  a discussion of the status of cloning research.
F. "Bringing Back the Mammoths"

Unfortunately the novel has yet to be written, and sadly, may never be written, for Anderson says in the "Introduction,"

     "The novel of Mammoth Dawn would be a huge project, even for a pair of seasoned writers, entailing a great deal of travel, research, and likely years of writing.  We loved the idea.
      We didn't have time for it, but we meant to."

It's an excellent action-packed short story, but I do wish that, in the near future, they do find the time to write the novel


  1. Reminds me of the expression: It's not nice to fool Mother Nature.
    Your posting gives me another to find and read. Thanks.
    You will be interested in my posting on Friday.

    1. R.T.,

      This is the second paragraph of the story:

      ""It's Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!' said one of the waving signs displayed on a securitycam window projected on the surface of his desk. The usual. Alex Pierce had stopped trying to understand the Evos' odd point of view, had ceased even being bemused by their antics. He had a company to run."

  2. most uncommon, the outre subjects inquired into by writerly persons; i would very much like to read a sci fi story from the pov of the mammoth, or any other dinosaur for that matter: how did they feel about the end of their world, 60 million years ago...? mammoths lasted longer, though: they became extinct only a short time ago, 10-15k years or so...(ruminating under the influence of geologic time is habit-forming, sorry...)

    1. Mudpuddle,

      Harry Harrison has written three novels in which dinosaurs were not wiped out. Eventually one strain developed intelligence and a civilization. Meanwhile, humans had also evolved in what is now the US. The three novels related the interactions between the two.

      Titles are _West of Eden_, _Winter in Eden_, and _Return to Eden_.

      There are numerous tales featuring dinosaurs, but I'm not aware of any from the mammoth's POV. Sorry about that.

      I don't think mammoths were around longer than the dinosaurs. They had been around later, as they evolved long after the dinosaurs left this marvelous planet.

    2. you're correct about mammoths: a later development; i have read a lot of HH's early work, but not the ones listed above. i got away from sci fi some years back and missed a lot...

    3. Mudpuddle,

      I was never much of a fan of Harry Harrison, but I think the Three Edens are by far his best work.

  3. I have read books by both Benford and Anderson but I have not read this. I tend to really like science fiction that is actually based upon science.

    The issues that this book seems to explore are also issues that humanity as whole will soon need to deal with.

    1. Brian Joseph,

      Yes, in the discussion section of the book, they mention that this issue may soon leave the realm of SF and become something we need to deal with. Of course, cloning humans is a topic that's alive today. I suspect that somewhere it's going on right now.

  4. Intriguing. Mammoth Park? That would probably be the next step. I don't think in general that this is a great idea - cloning long extinct species, I mean. I don't see the purpose. Curiosity is not enough. Anyway, that's my feeling.

    1. Yvette,

      The Jurassic Park films entered into the discussion sections of the book. The species mentioned in the story were those that humans had wiped out, except for the saber-toothed tiger, of course.

      Part of the book is a discussion by the two authors in which they talk about the why? of cloning. See Part F in the post.

      It's going to become a serious issue soon, I suspect.

  5. Re: cloning humans.
    Have you read Ishiguro's _Never Let Me Go_?
    I recommend it! I count it among the most memorable, most provocative, and best books in my reading over the past 25 year.

    1. R.T.,

      No, I haven't, but it's on my Future Reads Shelf at the library. Thanks for the reference.

  6. didn't Bradbury write a short story about children and a smilodon? (saber toothed tiger)

    1. Mudpuddle,

      That could be. The only saber-toothed tiger and children scene that I remember is a very brief reference in "The Halloween Tree." There's a more significant reference to lions in his "The Veldt," which I always want to call The Playroom for reasons that seem clear to me.

  7. This sounds so terribly familiar. I wonder if I read the original novella. At any rate, it certainly sounds like an interesting story and one that uses its science fictional elements to touch on themes that continue to be relevant many years now after they wrote that first novella.

    1. Carl V. Anderson,

      According to information in the book, the novella was first published in Analog in 2002, some 14 years ago. It's probably more relevant or significant now than it was when it first came out.

      I think we'd be surprised (shocked?) if we found out just what is happening in cloning research right now.