Robert Sawyer restores the "science" in "S-F" as no other writer can. As he transports two men 65 million years into the past, he offers us a sampling of everything from the anthropic principle through geology to zoology. He's able to reconcile the paradoxes raised by time travel [including a nod to the most famous example, Ray Bradbury's The Sound of Thunder] and set them aside plausibly. Sawyer also illuminates the contribution of Canada's researchers in nearly all these disciplines with subdued fervour. And scourges politicians for their failure to support science. All this in just over two hundred pages is no small feat.
The theme of End of an Era recounts the probable cause of the dinosaurs' extinction. Sawyer uses the story to review the thinking resulting from the Alvarez proposal that a wandering asteroid so disrupted the environment that all the large sauropods died out, leaving the planet an open niche for mammalian life. If an asteroid didn't kill off the dinosaurs, what did? The most discussed option is an era of massive vulcanism which would have the same effect. But Sawyer, with his gift of imagination, introduces a new option. Again, his concept has a sound scientific base and he describes it at some length. His presentation is impressive and well delivered. And a terrifying surprise.
Along with his scientific foundation, Sawyer paints realistic characters. The protagonist is a paleontologist with the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto [Sawyer's lucky, he lives close to his sources], and one can't help but wonder who the model might be. Brandon Thackeray, in the midst of devastating mid-life crises, is chosen as one of the two time travellers. His team-mate couldn't have been a worse choice for such an assignment - he's taken up with Brandon's ex-wife. Miles Jordan might be forgiven that affair, but will never live down taking packages of Twinkies into the Cretaceous. Sawyer hints that Tory cutbacks have eliminated psychological testing for this unique journey, but this is some pair to cram together in a time machine.
Sawyer's thinking challenges any reader unfamiliar with the science he introduces. His brief scenarios of research and theories cover much territory in a restricted space. While welcome and necessary, they don't leave enough room for plot in such a short book. Regrettably, his very skills in offering science force the story line over a bumpy path. There are parallel story lines in this book which take some unravelling. While his characters are realistically portrayed, the book might have been fleshed out to give them a bit more depth. Readers of Sawyer's other work know he's fully capable of expanding his persona. With a shade more depth, this book could have become a classic in speculative ["science"] fiction instead of just a very good read. Even if Sawyer's not at the top of his form here, his innovative thinking remains captivating to the discerning reader. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]