The Pleistocene Redemption
Article number: 1.2.5R
1 August 1998
Fort Bragg, CA, 1997, ii + 327p,
ISBN 1-879384-32-9, $24.95(US).
For those who enjoy such, here is a crackerjack adventure chock full of derring-do, with a grand bonus for the paleontologist. Be prepared, though, to suspend judgement as required throughout this Christmas-tree of a novel that incorporates science fiction, science fantasy, and an odd blend of what I can only describe as metaphysical genetics. All this is supported by a huge cast across the vast span of a near future where Arab nations and Israel, finally united in peace, attempt great deeds to end the timeless poverty of the Middle East.
The deus ex machina of the Jurassic Park novels was the mosquito trapped in amber after dining upon dinosaur. Gallagher is far more ambitious in sourcing his paleo-DNA to essentially anoxic fossil discoveries of varied provenance, including damaged or undamaged fossil egg or sperm cells. This raw material is fed into a Fossil Gene Redemption (FGR) process, whose output is a fertilized ovum to be implanted in a surrogate.
The inventor of this technology is Kevin Harrigan, a West Pointer and ex-Ranger gone to Harvard to study medicine. While there, he does further genetics research with Dr. Wentz. When a younger Wentz was on sabbatical in Austria, he viewed the 5000 year old "Ice Man" recently found frozen in an alpine glacier. Noting the absence of certain essentials, Wentz helicoptered back to the glacier where he recovered the frozen 5000 year-old gonads of the "Ice Man". With Harrigan, this led into the beginnings of FGR and detailed research into paleo-human fetal development. Harvard intervened, ended the program, confiscated all records, and blackballed Harrigan, whose own parents break with him over the moral implications of the research. Here is the tension that informs the remainder of the book.
Harrigan is then invited by the Iraqi government to a meeting in London. There he meets Bart Lloyd, paleontologist and explorer, who parachutes onto our pages, clutching an infant Yeti, from two miles high in the Himalaya. The Yeti, we learn, is really a surviving Pleistocene Gigantopithecus. Minister Ismail Mon, hosting the London meeting, offers both men the opportunity to continue their work at an Arab-Israeli research establishment in Israel. They accept.
This is a very dense story, dense in action and events, dense in scope, dense in plot and character. The author's stage is global in complexity, far more so than can be touched upon in this review. For example, there is a North African sideshow describing the terraforming of the Sahara. Quite innovative and not likely to get by Greenpeace in any foreseeable future. But the entire purpose of the diversion is a pointer to the character of the about-to-be-not-so-nice Minister Mon.
Mon, in a series of devious manoeuvres has obtained the relocation of the research facility to the Al-Rajda Zoological Preserve in Iraq. Here in an impenetrable, military, and cliff- guarded plateau, the Pleistocene cast is slowly produced and assembled - and what a cast! Sabre tooth tigers, cave bears, dire wolves, mammoths and mastodons, woolly rhinos, Megalonia (a particularly awful reptile), and much, much more. High on the bordering cliffs live small separated Cro-Magnon, Neanderthal, and Gigantopithecus colonies.
Erected upon this complex venue and its bizarre population is a work of great philosophic complexity. Harrigan, while no moral relativist, strongly believes, with Alexander Pope, that the proper study of man is man. An old friend he has now brought on board, Dr. Manfred Freund, is inclined to a set of moral and theologic absolutes that enjoin tinkering with human cellular and sexual development. Freund, once the FGR program has progressed to creating a Neanderthal embryo, refuses to implant it in a human surrogate.
Yet, implanted it is and eventually yields Kora, an arguably telepathic and an exceedingly strange young person - eventually to be a chief of her people. Kora, we learn, is genetically identical to her presumed fossil grandmother - an off-the-wall outcome to be understood only towards the end of the tale. Meanwhile, her putative paleo-reincarnation leaves our principals non-plussed. More will follow as the world of Harrigan and Freund begins to unravel.
Gallagher has written an interesting, quite readable book, first class science fiction with its ingenious, industrial creation of a compelling Pleistocene fauna and habitat, tempered with more than a dollop of metaphysical speculation. He is quite an enthusiast and invites the reader to his website at www.paleobook.com.