THE SAYING "gone the way of the dinosaur" is being given new meaning by Robert J. Sawyer. Sawyer, who has already collected a heap of awards and critical praise, will only add to his quickly growing reputation with his latest novel, Fossil Hunter (Ace, 304 pages, $4.99 paper).
This sequel continues the story, begun in Far-Seer, of a planet dominated by the Quintaglios, a dinosaur society. Sawyer's storytelling skill is such that his reptilian characters strike a human reader as simultaneously exotically attractive and disturbingly familiar. He uses his creations to make many clever anthropological and philosophical observations, to be sure; but the real strength of this story is the compassion and empathy Sawyer manages to arouse for these beasts. Fossil Hunter is much more than Animal Farm gone Star Wars, regardless of how this quick summary may sound.
The plot, similarly, is a deft blending of fantastic adventure with an uncanny allegory of the human condition. The beleaguered Quintaglios must deal, in one way or another, with all the thorny issues that plague life here on Earth: famine, war, territoriality and tribalism, class warfare, the erosion of cultural traditions, the price of heresy, and even (in an unsettling parallel) with the controversy over abortion and birth control.
Sawyer's narrative brilliance is such that he can tackle all these serious topics and still deliver an entrancing, even charming story that keeps us hooked with sly cliff-hanger chapter endings. Although Fossil Hunter is obviously aimed at the SF crowd, it deserves a much wider readership.