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Mastodonia Hardcover – March 1, 1978
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About the Author
Clifford Donald Simak (* August 3, 1904 in Milville, Wisconsin, USA / † April 25, 1988 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA) was a journalist and a science fiction writer. Simak was considered as one of the “Grandmasters” of science fiction and he was honoured several times with awards for his contribution to science fiction literature.
Clifford D. Simak wrote continuously science fiction and fantasy for over 55 years (only few other writers worked as long as he did). He never was such a prolific writer like Isak Asimov or Robert Silverberg. Anyhow he managed to publish in these 55 years 28 novels and more than 120 short stories in the genres science fiction and fantasy – and that avocational until his retirement in 1976. He earned his living as a reporter and editor of big newspapers in the American middle west.
There was a time when Simak was considered as one of the most valued SF-writers and there was hardly any standard literature on the history of science fiction which has not dedicate him a separate paragraph or even an own chapter even though he was never in fashion. He stood mostly in the shadow of his more famous colleagues--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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As the title might indicate, this was a tale of time travel that involved journeying into the prehistoric past. With this story, Simak brought a novel and interesting perspective to the subject, exploring not only the adventure potential of time travel, but also the political and economic ramifications such a discovery might bring about. Though the story was pretty good, it felt a bit half-baked and too lighthearted to be taken seriously. Later, however, Simak would take its basic premise, adapt it to a new cast of characters, and develop it into a full-blown novel entitled Mastodonia, published in 1978. Thank goodness he didn’t give up on the idea, because his thoughtful resurrection of this concept has resulted in a very entertaining and thought-provoking book.
Like much of Simak’s fiction, Mastodonia takes place in rural western Wisconsin. Asa Steele, a professor of paleontology, is spending his sabbatical at the farm where he grew up. He is joined there by Rila Elliot, a former paleontological colleague with whom he had a brief love affair twenty years prior. As the two become reacquainted, Asa explains to her that he has isolated himself in this secluded region in order to investigate some strange artifacts he has found on his property. Also a mysterious creature has been seen lurking through the woods. One night, Asa stumbles through a time tunnel into a land populated by prehistoric mammals who walked the earth 100,000 years ago. Through a mechanism best left unmentioned, Asa and Rila discover that they can create similar time tunnels into various periods of the past. Though they recognize the incredible research potential of time travel, they decide that in order to construct the necessary infrastructure to make time travel accessible, they must first develop it into a commercially viable business, one centered around prehistoric safaris. The first step in their business plan is to declare their prehistoric haven an independent nation, which they dub Mastodonia.
Simak has an extraordinary talent for taking the scientifically incredible and rendering it believable within the mundane details of our everyday world. A large part of his ability to do this comes from his keen understanding of human nature and his ability to craft realistic and sympathetic characters that don’t merely serve as shills for his sci-fi speculations but actually function as complex characters worthy of literature. Through Asa’s first-person narration, the reader experiences a roller coaster ride of conflicting feelings from the joy of discovery, to the weight of responsibility, to the pangs of regret.
Mastodonia did not always live up to my expectations. For one thing, I thought there would be more time travel. Unlike other sci-fi novels which concentrate on the wow factor of time travel, this one focuses more on its ethical, legal, and logistical complications. Simak defying my expectations, however, is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, truth be told, it makes for a better narrative. You never know where or when the story is going to lead, and Simak keeps you guessing right up until the very end. Though at times he may have led me down paths I didn’t want to travel, I always ended up admiring the author when we arrived at our destination. It’s a rare novel that can combine the pulp fiction thrills of a dinosaur hunt with a philosophical examination of time travel ethics. Even within Simak’s impressive body of work, Mastodonia is an exceptional read that delivers ample fun, thrills, and intellectual stimulation.
Asa Steele was a paleontogy instructor from a small western college- and just about fed-up with it. He returned home to rural Wisconsin on sabatical to think things over- and to investigate what he thought might be the site of a crashed UFO that he remembered as a boy. Like so much else, it was still there unchanged. The fragments that he escavated came back from the university lab as belonging to an unknown alloy with extraordinary properties. Yet there was nothing else that really proved an extraterrestrial origin. That is, until his dog started to bring back dinosaur bones and other artifacts from the gateway that the ship had punched through the space-time fabric....
While kids will love this story, it isn't really a child's book. The adult character development is quite good. So are the plot complications (of course the government would try to seize a gateway into the past- to hand over to its corporate masters.) But the theme of unlimited, pristine, uninhabited worlds ready for the taking are what really sets this particular book apart. I know that I would pack up and take off to them in a heartbeat.
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"Mastodonia" to be charitable, may have been intended as a spoof of time-travel stories.Read more