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The Dechronization of Sam Magruder: A Novel Paperback – April 15, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This intelligent, if conventional time-travel yarn, which was found by the daughter of the eminent paleontologist Simpson (d. 1984), shows some of the crusty wit of his idiosyncratic autobiography, Concessions to the Improbable. Simpson tells the tale of Sam Magruder, a 22nd-century scientist who slips back to the late Cretaceous period. In this "Crusoe of the Cretaceous," as Clarke dubs it in his appreciative introduction, Magruder's struggle to maintain his mental composure in utter isolation is as important as his struggle for survival among the saurians. In the manner of H.G. Wells's Time Machine, the tale is framed by present-day (in this case, 22nd-century) interlocutors, who try to make sense of Magruder's record, which has been found by a geologist. Simpson uses the story to advance his preferred hypotheses about dinosaurs, most notably that they were cold-blooded and slow (a vision that has come under increasing attack since the 1960s, according to Gould's afterword), but he doesn't sacrifice storytelling to pedantry. When Magruder is shocked at the gleaming white teeth of a T-rex?he'd previously known only fossil-brown?the thought is shocking to the reader, too. The end, which involves an epiphany Sam has when trapping small, shrew-like mammals for their fur, is comic and oddly moving at once: he realizes, with a sense of both awe and the ridiculous, that the creature is his "Great-grandpa."
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Reporters we expect to stash their unpublished Great American Novel in the desk drawer, but famous scientists? Such was the fate of this quaint sf novella by Simpson, a pathbreaking paleontologist who died in 1984. The setup is simple: in the twenty-second century, some academics gather to read an astounding discovery--chiseled writing on eight stone slabs excavated from Cretaceous Period slate. It's the testimony of Sam Magruder, researcher of a quantum theory of time who--shazamm!--slips between quanta and falls into a dinosaur-infested swamp, with no way back to the future. As Earth's only human, Magruder faces cosmic loneliness and despair; but as a scientist he grasps the chance to observe the dinos and settle for future paleontologists the controversies about their appearance and behavior. More than a whimsical survival yarn about a castaway, Simpson's charming tale also touches motifs prominent in the sf genre (e.g., time travel) and receives a deserved publicity boost with a preface and postscript by Arthur Clarke and Stephen Jay Gould, respectively. Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; First Edition edition (April 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031215514X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312155148
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,043,103 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Someone on February 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is an intriguing story of science and adventure. It is about a scientist who constructs a time machine, is accidentally transported to the dinosaur age and is, as you may have guessed, unable to return. The story is an account of this journey through his eyes and the eyes of the future...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Karen Marie on May 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is a book-within-a-book story of a man who goes back in time 80 million years, proving that his theory of time travel works yet living out his life absolutely isolated from human contact.

Sam Magruder lives in 2162. We first learn of his amazing adventure when slabs of stone from 80 million years ago are discovered to contain "universal Swahili" - the language of 2162 - chronicling Maguder's amazing time jump. He writes of how he figures out "when" he is, how he survives, and of his musings on his purpose now that he can't ever get back to his life in 2162.

This is a treasure of a book. I really enjoyed the descriptions of how he survived the first days, how he tried to make sense of what happened to him, and how he got through his life.

Surrounding the 8 slabs of Magruder's story is philosophical argument about his life and its meaning by the Universal Historian, the Common Man, the Pragmatist, the Ethnologist, and Pierre Precieux, discoverer of the slabs. Each represents a different philosophical viewpoint. One thing that was terribly amusing was that Magruder's discussion of his (lack of) sex life was eliminated from the general translation available to the general public, but kept, for scientific accuracy in the official text.

Surrounding the book-within-a-book, are an introduction by Arthur C. Clarke, an afterward by Stephen Jay Gould, and a memoir by Joan Simpson Burns, daughter of the author, George Gaylord Simpson. All are well thought out and interesting reads on their own.

This book was found after the author's death by his daughter. He was the preeminent paleontologist of the 20th century, and this book is, according to Clarke, Gould, and his daughter, unconsciously autobiographical and revelatory of his strengths and weaknesses.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 26, 1999
Format: Paperback
Simpson is considered to have been the world's foremost expert in the physiology and functioning of dinasours. As such, his fiction presents a strikingly accurate and fascinating look at the ecosystem of the dinasaur. His look at chronology and time functioning is unscientific and a bit juvenile, but this book is a real adventure!
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mindy on September 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
I admit it: I am a sucker for time travel stories. They don't even have to be any good. I'll still read them, and probably like them.
This book, however, is quite good. It takes the time-slip convention and turns it into a scientific "fact" by giving it a fancy sounding name: dechronization. Just the fact that it uses a pseudo-term like that would make it a favorite with me even if it was written in gibberish, but I have a thing about neology. Since reading this book, I have started slipping the word "dechronization" and all its variants into conversation whenever possible. It is my hope that one day this word will be common koine.
The other notable point of this book the reaction of Magruder to the dechronization. Since he is a chronologist, he knows that the chances of his being re-dechronized are beyond impossible. So he has absolutely no chance of seeing another person. Ever. But he doesn't give in to the hopelessness that I know I would feel. He continues to live. He takes a lesson from Robinson Crusoe, and makes a good life there in the middle of nowhere (or in this case nowhen).
All in all, I think this is a must-read for wannabe time travelers like myself. Or maybe just anyone who likes the linguistic oddities inherent in time travel.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By on September 20, 1997
Format: Paperback
An excellent book, even though it has its flowing horribly compromised by old-fashioned theories (e.g. Simpson says dinosaurs are cold-blooded), for it was written on the last decade. I'd give two reasons for you to read it : the explanations concerning chronology (a future discipline) are very neat; and it has a highly philosophical content. Stephen Gould's posface is nearly undispensable while understanding the text.

Worht reading; specially for fans of the so-called "hard SF"...
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Peter D. Tillman VINE VOICE on September 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
This slim novella, by the late and distinguished paleontologist, was
found in his papers after his death. It's just so-so as fiction, in my
opinion, but the book is worth your attention for the two elegant essays
included. The first, by Arthur C. Clarke, outlines the history of time-travel
stories, and includes more recommendations for classic dinosaur tales.
Sir Arthur notes, with admirable succintness, that "the most convincing
argument against [real] time travel is the remarkable scarcity of [real]
time travellers."

Stephen Jay Gould was a student of Simpson's, and contributes a
graceful and elegaic essay on Simpson's novella, career and life --
which, I must say, I enjoyed more than the story. An exceptional
piece, not to be missed if you have any interest in Gould or Simpson.

Simpson's novella does have its charms -- it has a nice mock-
Victorian club-story opening, not unlike Clarke's Tales from the
White Hart, and is oddly compelling despite the amateurish writing.
Sam Magruder, a chronologist in 2162, is accidentally "dechronized"
into the late Cretaceous, with no possibility of rescue, and spends the
rest of his life evading, eating and studying dinosaurs. It's certainly
not "the best time travel story since HG Wells" as the cover blurb
avers, but it's worth a look. Sadly, the story's paleontology is
now quite out of date.

Peter D. Tillman
Consulting Geologist, Tucson & Santa Fe (USA)
(Review first published in the Arizona Geological Society newsletter, 1-02)
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