Review of Opalescence: The Middle Miocene Play of Color by Ron Rayborne
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In movies, you normally get a nerd protagonist traveling through time to figure out if he can change some insignificant facet of his own life.
In reality, if we ever get time travel, it will be scientists who utilize it for the purpose of saving our species from extinction, or some other worthy purpose. Yet scientists are only human. R. R. understands this, and depicts the conflicts of realistic characters in a dystopian future, marching to the beat of their drums. Is the planet doomed? If it is not already, the future this book depicts is startling for its feasibility, if not inevitable.
Opalescence is meticulously researched, that much is clear from the get-go. There is a persistent sense of dread inherent in the trajectory of human progress, and a consistent mourning for the lost potential offered by the distant past. Crushing and mutilating the Natural world in our ceaseless march forward, what humans have accomplished is surpassed only by the baffling immensity of the cosmos and time itself. In our Imperialism, we have unwittingly backed ourselves into a small corner. Enlisting the input of a team of subject matter experts, our author has compiled an impressive amount of technical expertise within the confines of his absorbing story, roping in every discipline from botany to volcanism.
In a government run by clones, scientists serve as secret operatives in a journey farther than any human has gone before. The pacing is conducive to page-turning, and the subject matter is fitting for a vivid evocation of the vanished past. Julie’s intricate backstories serve as an anchor for our dangerously curious characters. The tyranny of man over the natural world is merely the prologue to an exploration of a shimmering pre-historical odyssey. The protagonist possesses an advanced knowledge of extinct fauna, and the author uses a lot of specialized vocabulary, which may lead some readers running for the dictionary. I didn’t let it bother me. You don’t need to understand every single scientific reference, unless you are reading this document to compose your thesis. He communicates the vast importance of the mission and provides tangible motivations for the risks involved. Reminds me of the story by Bradbury called “The Sound of Thunder.”
Who would not want to leave behind a society illustrating various dimensions of anarchy, for a favorite period of prolegomenous beauty? Progress is at war with human needs and the downward spiral of genetic engineering, the conquering of unruly weather patterns, etc., incites an inherent need for an alternative comparison. While maintaining lighthearted detachment to the straightforward world-building, the author’s examination of futurist theories, and conjectures of his chosen narrative destination lead to many an informative catalogue of pre-historical data, dramatized elegantly. At bottom, it contemplates how intimate is our connection with our planet. How much of a shadow is our current understanding of the world as opposed to the planet’s prehistorical foundations? Grand in scope, human nature remains constant, even in various forms of survivalism, which by the way, is ecstatically detailed. One of these books could theoretically be written for every previous era in Earth’s untrammeled pre-human history: Ice Age, Jurassic, etc. How tiny is our sliver of the inhospitable cosmic scale pertaining to the functioning of our lives. The immense diversity of extinct creatures to be found in his version of the Miocene illustrates that beautifully. The author takes his time to demonstrate his ideas, incorporating countless S-f tropes.
Perhaps the best reason to read Opalescence is to get a non-Hollywood survey of pre-history, without the dryness of a textbook, in the form of a well-told story, offering far more knowledge than your average Crichton novel. A fitting epitaph for a probably unreachable wilderness, of which our present is a mere echo.
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