by Wil McCarthy
Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted September 11, 2019
I received an ARC of Wil McCarthy's Antediluvian from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. It will be released in three weeks, October 1. The synopsis talks about time travel ("A rousing, fast-paced novel of time travel unlike any other."), and I agree with those last three words, since it wasn't what I was expecting. It's good, with a lot of interesting ideas, but I don't think fast-paced is accurate. Instead of physically moving through time, researcher Harv Leonel uses a radical technique to hack into his own brain, his theory being that our bodies house "quantome" memories at the chromosomal level, as in an organic computer. Those memories would supposedly be passed down from all of our ancestors. Harv is concentrating on the Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup, which determines present day humans most recent common ancestor. The acknowledgments list several scientists he consulted, although the theories and narratives from the memories are purely fictional.
The title can mean a primitive or out-dated concept, but is most frequently used to denote a time period before the Biblical flood. Practically every culture on Earth has a devastating flood as part of their myth cycle, it's not just a story about Noah. Harv's first experience of racial memory is later conjectured to have taken place in India, as determined by his assistant (and current lover) Tara Mukherjee. Harv claims to have experienced events through the consciousness of a man named Manuah, owner of several reed boats used for fishing, as well as carrying cargo to and from The City to smaller nearby villages. Every thing he describes sounds remarkably like the story of Manu as told in the Hindu canonical text of the Rigveda. Why would Harv, of Scottish ancestry, have a memory from an Asian man? Perhaps the movements of groups of people throughout the world was different than previously thought, perhaps certain events occurred much further in the past than believed, giving more time for the propagation of racial genotypes. I've often thought, probably from other readings, that the universality of the flood myth might have derived from the end of the last Ice Age, as glaciers and mountain snow melted. Manuah is aware of this and believes it is the cause of the rising sea waters he has witnessed, but he is unable to convince the King of the danger and the need to add to and reinforce their sea walls. Then along comes the impact of a large meteor or comet north of The City, and the damage is more intense and immediate. Luckily Manuah had anticipated it, lashing several of his boats together, rescuing his family and several of his workers before it was too late. During this and later experiences, Harv believes there has been some sort of backwards influence through his genome, that he has actually been able to communicate with the men whose minds he is inhabiting. If that is actually what is happening, then it does come close to being time travel, even if it's only in Harv's mind.
There are three other sequences related, but there is a problem. Harv has the subsequent visions after being disconnected from his machinery. Physically it appears he is having a siezure, a fugue state, with the possibility the procedure has done permanent damage to his brain and central nervous system. He has the second vision while being transported by ambulance to the hospital, the third and fourth after being admitted. Each sequence is further back in time than the previous one. He believes his second experience is somewhere in Europe, then it's two different places in Africa. He has difficulty deducing the time frame, but in neither of the scenarios does he witness anything like the mythical "caveman." Societal groups are more organized, and civilized, than what he would have assumed based on his best guess as to the time period. The different sections are under the headers "The Deluge," "The Monsters," "The Garden," and "The Voyage." The monsters refers either to the trolls (probably Neandertals), or it could mean the humans who cannot relate to them and massacre them instead. The third sequence seems to be when a formalized language was developed, along with stories that mirror that of Adam and Eve in Eden. "The Voyage" is the furthest in the past he goes, and his alter-ego on that trip could be the first to travel by raft from one land mass to another, Harv thinking it is from Northern Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar. Is it possible his influence enabled that proto-human to accomplish such a feat?
I'm not sure how the print version will look, but the ARC on my Kindle has the present day scenes and the ones where Harv is experiencing the past in standard text. Several sequences in which Harv is thinking about what is going on has the text in a gold color, although when he emphasizes certain words, instead of italics, they are blue. I could make a minor criticism about how Harv knows the languages spoken by the various men, but to have written his experiences in anything but English would have been too complicated. So, not fast-paced, but definitely thought-provoking. Could the definition of civilization extend further back in time than typical history texts allege? Could many of our myths and legends be true, even if altered by time and the interpretations of various cultures? Why else would the flood myth be so pervasive? Could Neandertals be the source of the troll myths? Could uncovered dinosaur bones be the genesis of the legends of dragons? Could the story of a young girl trying to prove her indifference to a boy by picking fruit from a tree, even though a venomous snake threatens, have led to the myth of Eden and the Tree of Knowledge? Even if not, it's intriguing enough and entertaining enough to want such things to be true. No one is ever able to duplicate Harv's experience, yet his meticulous notes and further research prove hard to refute. The doctors are able to correct, or at least mitigate, his medical condition, but I have to wonder if he wouldn't have cared what happened to him as long as he could take another journey with his ancestors. I think I'd take the chance. The first two segments are the best, the latter two weaker in comparison, but overall it still gets my recommendation.
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