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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular Time Travel adventure, 12 Sept. 2006
This review is from: Mammoth (Mass Market Paperback)
The quality of John Varley's very best writing is quite out of this world. When he's not at his very best he's still pretty good. This book is very good.

Billionaire Howard Christian, a character who appears to be loosely based on Howard Hughes but makes him look normal, has been seeking to clone a mammoth. His agents find a superb specimen which has been well preserved in frozen ice for 12,000 years and start digging it out to begin the process. Then they find beside the mammoth the frozen bodies of a man and a woman who also appear to have been there for 12,000 years - but the man is wearing a wristwatch and holding an unusual artifact.

That is only the start of some seriously weird events. The plot has a lot of twists and turns, some of which the reader may see coming but most of which probably won't turn out in quite the way you expect.

Interspersed in the text, with a little chunk of about two pages at a time between each chapter of the main narrative, is the story of a mammoth called Fuzzy from his conception and birth in about 10,000 BC to - well, you'll have to read it to see.

Character development in the book is fairly good, although Varley has done better. Howard Christian is a very strange individual who has lots of obsessions and you keep wondering if he is going to flip over to outright evil. His chief fixer is a man called Warburton who might have been interesting to explore in more depth but appears in most of the book as a shadowy figure who organises whatever Christian wants done. At the very end of the story Warburton takes on a bit more personality, as does Christian's filmstar girlfriend, Andrea de la Terre.

The main sympathetic human character is Matt Wright, a scientist who specialises in the physics of time and who is brought in by Christian to investigate some peculiar artifacts found with the frozen man. Another sympathetic human character is Susan Morgan, an elephant handler brought in to look after the elephants involved in Christian's attempts to clone the mammoth. Neither Matt nor Susan is a creation in the same league as Varley's best characters such as Sirocco Jones or Gaby, but both are sufficiently well drawn as to make you care about what happens to them. The most interesting characters in the book are the elephants and mammoths, several of whom Varley manages to invest with real but plausible personality.

I doubt if this one will add to Varley's stock of Nebula and Hugo awards, but it does qualify as extremely entertaining and well worth a read.
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Location: Whitehaven, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 458