On my quest to broaden my horizons and expand to the world of Science Fiction, I picked up West of Eden by Harry Harrison. It is the first book in the Eden trilogy and I'd have to say, somewhat of a masterpiece. Harrison managed to not only create a wonderful story, but an entirely new planet Earth as well. As we know, sixty-five million years ago something happened and the ice age occurred. All the dinosaurs became extinct, and the age of the mammals began. The premise behind this book ask the question: "What if history had been different? What if the reptiles survived to evolve into intelligent life?"
This story tells the tale of the Yilane, a super-intelligent form of dinosaur, and the Tanu, another name for Humans. The Yilane live in cities, are intelligent, and have an incredibly structured hierarchy. They are also a completely matriarchal society, ruled solely by females and where the males are only used for breeding. They have taken genetic engineering to a whole new level. Everything they need is engineered from a living organism to something of use to them. This includes their weapons, their transportation, and even the trees they live in. The Tanu on the other hand, are more nomadic, living in small villages called Sammads. They move to find food and plentiful hunting, and return to the cold mountains in the winter months.
When a small group of hunters venture farther South than they've ever been, they happen across a couple of Yilane. Knowing the danger of all cold-blooded creatures, they kill the small group of reptiles. When the slaughter of their kind is uncovered, the Yilane, led by their ruler Vainte, sets out to destroy the "animals" that did this. During the Yilane attack, a young boy named Kerrick is captured. Kerrick is taken to live with the Yilane so they can study his kind. He eventually is taught the language and is able to communicate with the reptiles. He spends years with the Yilane, learning all their ways. When an attack on another sammad occurs, Kerrick escapes and goes back to live again with other Tanu.
There are a lot of different topics that Harrison explores in this book. He has created an incredible new world with a new language and many new species. The politics of the Yilane and their desire to rid the planet of the Tanu makes for a great story, albeit one that we have seen in our own world. There is even a faction of the Yilane, called the Daughters of Life, that protest against the destruction of other creatures. Not my normal fare, but a great book!! 4.5/5