Them Bones is a classic sci-fi time travel novel from cult author, Howard Waldrop. Waldrop has something of a reputation amongst his fans as an excellent short-story writer but this is the only one of his novels that I have ever read. And, from this first evidence, his writing seems okay but nothing that exciting!
This is unfortunate because time travel has always been a favourite subject of mine and this book really doesn't do it justice!
Leake is a soldier in a futuristic military force who is sent back in time from an alternative 2002 to alter the past and prevent world war III from starting. He is supposed to be the first of another 146 troops coming down the line but, after several days, soon realises that something has gone wrong! Not only does nobody else turn up but he also appears to have been sent too far back in time! It is not till much later has passed that he realises that the world he has come back to is not even his own! In this world, history is vastly different to anything he was taught and there are some pretty significant variations!! Not only has he travelled back in time but Leake has also travelled SIDEWAYS!
Meanwhile in 1920's America, a group of Anthropologists and Archaeologists are investigating a dig when they come across something equally as bizarre. Not only do they discover horse bones buried at a time before the horse was first introduced to America but also modern-day cartridges from some kind of projectile weapon such as a rifle! This is such an anomaly that it brings the dig to the attention of the State Senator but the team's progress is limited by time. In a few days a dam is going to be blown, flooding the area and destroying all the evidence and the clock is against them to find something that proves their discovery is legit.
Finally we discover what happened to the other 146 men and women who were also sent down the line! They seem to have stayed in their own world but, like Leake, have been sent back too far. And the Natives, though initially friendly, soon turn nasty when the troops realise they have brought back some kind of infection. Not used to facing the kind of warfare the Native American Indians employ, the troops find themselves out-manouvered and being picked out like fish in a barrel. With supplies and men rapidly running out, what hope does this leave for the future?
One of the things I do not like about this novel is that it never really goes anywhere. It throws you a premise that is quite believable and interesting and then never really seems to know where to go. It lacks any direction and that is a shame! All manner of interesting concepts are raised only for the author to lose his guts and not do anything with them!!
Leake is an interesting character but we never learn enough about him. Similarly the only information we ever learn about the troops is told to us through diary entries and mission reports so that the reader never really feels a connection! Only in the '20's and on the archaeological dig do we ever feel any kind of empathy and that is limited to the few chapters given that deal with this point of time which are never really enough to be significant! The jumping about from one time to the next makes the story come across as more than a little stilted and that is a shame as this is a story that initially shows a lot of promise.
This is not a bad book but it is not patriculary amazing and thus, does not really stand out as much as it should. Itr has little individual character and is an interesting read but no more than that. There never feels here like there is enough to get your teeth into. I can only imagine that Waldrop's material works better in short-story format and that is why his shorter works are much better recieved! For as a novel, this story just feels like it is lacking a little something...like depth!