West of Eden (West of Eden, #1)

By Harry Harrison

Rating: 3 stars

This book posits the question: what would have happened if the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs had never occurred. It answers that a sentient species, the Yilanè would have appeared. It further posits that a North America that was isolated from the rest of the world (the land bridge of central America being submerged for some time) would have harboured mammals that would eventually have evolved into humans. This book tells of the first Yilanè attempt to colonise the new world and the clash of cultures that occurred when they encountered sentient mammals.

The Yilanè of this book in some ways reminded me a lot of ‘the folk’ of John Brunner’s The Crucible of Time: they are a believable alien race, with advanced biotechnology and an inability to lie, albeit with a huge side-order of xenophobia. Although to be fair, this is very much reciprocated by the (hunter-gatherer) humans they encounter. The first instinct of the hunter was to kill them all and stomp the young underfoot. This sets up the pattern for what follows: you killed us, so we must kill you because you killed us because…

Our protagonist through the story is a young boy named Kerrick. With him, we follow the familiar story of a boy kidnapped at a young age, raised with his captors in their language, believing himself to be one of them until he rediscovers his roots, kills the Yilanè around him and returns to his people. In this case, to be their advisor on all things Yilanè and how to kill them. Oh, and with some added inter-species sex (consent uncertain) before enlightenment.

In a lot of ways, this is a frustrating book. At no time do the two species ever attempt to negotiate or to talk to one another. They are both convinced that they other must be wiped off the face of the earth (or, at least the continent). In a tribe of hunter-gatherers, I can almost understand this, but the Yilanè have been civilised for millennia, and should really know better.

Still, there’s a core of a fun adventure story in this book, even if attempts at genocide, with varying degrees of success, do leave a bit of a sour taste in the mouth.

Book details

ISBN: 9780586057810
Publisher: Panther Books Limited
Year of publication: 1984

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