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Fire in the Stone: Prehistoric Fiction from Charles Darwin to Jean M. Auel (The Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction Series) by Nicholas Ruddick
Cover Artist: Simon Harmon Vedder
Review by Ernest Lilley
Wesleyan Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780819569004
Date: 30 April 2009 List Price $35.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

If SF asks "Where do we go from here?" PF (prehistoric fiction) asks "How did we get here in the first place?" It's a good question. In fact, it's a great question. The Fire In The Stone takes us on a tour of prehistory in literature, a form that started 150 years ago when Darwin (as well as Daniels and Evans) published their papers on evolution. Before that, Western Civilization operated under the pleasant premise that man had sprung full formed out of whatever womb held him, and any resemblance to other simian's was due solely to deistic humor. Author Nicholas Ruddick gives us an excellent overview of the subject, and in doing so reveals not so much what our lives before history were like, but how our view of man's place in the world has changed over time.

Nicholas Ruddicks's survey and analysis of prehistorical fiction (PF) The Fire in the Stone shows the changing landscape of self regard as society has struggled for the last century and a half to deal with man as an evolved creature. Without this notion, which for all practical intent did not exist before the publication Charles Darwin's papers on evolution, and equally important Geologists John Daniels and John Evans' papers on the Somme's gravels artifacts, began with these publications in 1859.

Though the birth of speculative fiction about the future of man will always be a murky mark, the beginning of PF is clear.

Ruddick's book puts PF in context in a way that I'd never stopped to try and do. It never would have occurred to me that the discovery of "lost worlds" and "living fossils" was meant to undermine the notion of evolution by showing that in fact nothing changed over time. False logic to be sure, but understanding the motivation of authors like Doyle and Verne puts a different spin on things.

The author points out early on that his aim isn't to evaluate the scientific accuracy of PF, but that in the conflict between science and fiction, facts are all well and good, but they are at once suspect and insufficient for the job of creating literature. At the end of the day, the author puts forth, the job of literature isn't to sell science, or any philosophical framework, but rather to its "aesthetic success".

That's not completely fair though, as the literary merits of each story take a back seat to the discussion of PF as it relates to our view of human and animal natures.

The first first three chapters of this book cover the history of PF from inception, "Paris avant le les hommes" (Paris before man: 1861, Pierre Boitard) to the current wave, kicked off by Clan of the Cave Bear (1980, Jean M. Auel). Though a survey is by nature less than exhaustive, reading the book expanded my awareness of the genre considerably, and I was gratified that some of my own favorites were in the mix. Ruddick covers PF in film too, Illuminating 2001: A Space Odyssey's, elements inherited from Victorian progressivism, the significant departure of Quest for Fire (1981) from Jean-Jauques Annaud's book and more.

Following his survey of the subject, the author looks at four thematic issues, in PF: Nature and Human Nature, Sex and Gender, Race or the Human Race, and A Cultural Triad: Languate, Religion, Art. Both the survey and the thematic sections provide much food for thought, and offer opportunity for continued dialog. I'd like to see a PF wiki created to go with the book to continue both the cataloging of PF and the discussion of its themes.

Reading The Fire in the Stone uncovered a conceptual complacency in me that I'd been completely unaware of. From the early wrestling with the notion of prehistorical man to the no less provincial implantation of contemporary sensibilities in him, I find myself reading PF with a new sensitivity to the author's viewpoint.

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