Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Them Bones by Howard Waldrop

Title: Them Bones
Author: Howard Waldrop
ISBN: 0-441-80557-4, Ace Science Fiction, 1984
Genre: Science Fiction/ Time Travel
Rating: C+

First Line: "There's a horse in the small mound," said Bessie.

It's 1929 and archaeologists are digging in a mound in Louisiana when they find something very exciting: the skeleton of a horse. What's so exciting about that? From the skeleton's position in the mound, it was in America a few centuries before it was supposed to be. Then the archaeologists dig a little more and find something even more curious: the cause of the horse's death--a cartridge from a rifle.

Them Bones sticks to the Moundbuilder culture of prehistoric America, but the story is told from differing viewpoints: the 1929 team of archaeologists, a scout sent back to the wrong time to prevent World War III, and the group of soldiers who followed him.

The story moves quickly--too quickly--and the chapters involving the group of soldiers tend to be downright confusing. The 1929 group of archaeologists and the scout had the most interesting stories to tell, especially Leake (the scout) who became well-acquainted with the group of Indians he found himself amongst. I've visited Cahokia, the one remaining supreme example of Moundbuilder culture. It is awe-inspiring, so I enjoyed Waldrop's choice of setting and the Indian characters Leake met.

The bones were there for a wonderful book, but they just weren't fleshed out. The setting was a winner, but the pace was too fast and the characters not fully realized. I'm glad that I read the book because it encouraged me to go online and do a bit more research on Cahokia, but Them Bones left me feeling like Oliver Twist. Please sir...couldn't I have had some more?

[Source: Paperback Swap.]


  1. How disappointing it is when a great premise is bungled like that.

  2. I read this book back in 1987, for a science fiction class. I loved it so much (when I didn't love science fiction at all) that I became a fan of all of Waldrop's stories. He has a quirky sense of humor and of humankind's place in the universe.

  3. You lost me at time travel, but my husband and son might enjoy this one.

  4. Bernadette-- Yes. but at least it wasn't a total washout.

    Corey-- I'll have to try another of his books. Do you have any suggestions?

    Kathy-- They just might.

  5. Cathy, I think Waldrop is at his best in his short stories, if you can find them. Two of my favorites are "Flying Saucer Rock n Roll" and "The Ugly Chickens."

  6. Corey-- Thanks for the recommendations!


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