Michael Swanwick is a prolific American science fiction writer. His SF and fantasy stories are highly imaginative and vividly written.
He has received and been nominated for a number of awards, including the Hugo, the Nebula, the Theodore Sturgeon and World Fantasy awards, for his novels and short stories. His novels include:
Vacuum Flowers (1987) (space & cybernetics)
Stations of the Tide (1991)
The Iron Dragon’s Daughter (1993) (fantasy; elves and dragons)
Jack Faust (1997) (modern retelling of Faust)
Bones of the Earth (2002) (time travel)
The Dragons of Babel (2008)
Dancing With Bears (2011) (post-Utopian Russia).
Chasing the Phoenix (2015) .
“Bones of the Earth” (2002) was nominated for the Nebula, the Hugo, Campbell, and Locus Awards.
It is based on Swanwick’s short story “Scherzo with Tyrannosaur” which won the Hugo Award.
Bones of the Earth is a time travel story, spanning millennia of geologic time from the pre-historic past to the far future. The focus of the story is on modern day expeditions to the Mesozoic Age, the age of the dinosaurs. The time travelers and scientific researchers are humans, but the time travel technology is from the far future, long after humankind is extinct.
Towards the end of the story, Swanwick includes the following verse from William Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”:
“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”
Prospero, scene i, Act IV, The Tempest
Source & Credit:
The main human characters; and the “Bird Men” — the providers of the time travel technology:
The story begins and ends in the modern times, in 2010. We learn more about the time-travel technology towards the final chapters of the story. The technology is invented in the far future, the Telezoic Age, and is provided to the humans by the “Bird Men”, who evolved from an avian ancestor, long after humankind’s extinction.
The Unchanging are essentially machines made from human genetic material, and they are sent by the Bird Men to observe and record human behavior. The Bird Men in particular are struck by human curiosity and courage shown in scientific investigations. They provide the means of the time travel back to the Mesozoic, for scientific observations and research. There are stringent rules and regulations regarding time travel. No changes must be made to the events of the past. The consequence would be loss of the technology, and all knowledge gained through the time travel would be erased by the Bird Men.
The lives of three people become intertwined as they journey through time. Swanwick is a master story teller: Individual life stories unfold as the younger and older selves of people, as they travel to the prehistoric past, and return to their lives in modern times, in later decades of their lives (2034 or later). The final return of the time travelers is to the year 2010.
Paleontologist Dr. Richard Leyster: researcher and lecturer with the Smithsonian Museum; his life changes dramatically when he is given the opportunity to study live dinosaurs, in their milieu, in the Mesozoic age. He is the leader of the expedition that is stranded for two years in the Mesozoic Age.
Paleontologist Dr. Gertrude Salley: she is brilliant in making the kind of visionary leaps needed to come up with new theories. But she is also manipulative, and uses people and their ideas for her own advancement. She changes events in the timeline, with dire consequences for the lives of expedition members. Her understanding of her own character comes when she finds herself face to face with her older self, in the same time line.
Harry Griffin — plans and organizes the expeditions to the Mesozoic. Griffin is actually the younger self of The Old Man. Griffin’s knowledge of time travel technology and its providers plays a critical role in the rescue of the expedition that is stranded in the Mesozoic Age.