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MAMMOTH by John Varley


by John Varley

Pub Date: June 7th, 2005
ISBN: 0-441-01281-7
Publisher: Ace/Berkley

From the author of Steel Beach (1992), etc., a yarn about time travel and—well, you guessed it.

Mammoth-obsessed industrialist moneybags Howard Christian’s team scours the Canadian permafrost for a mammoth carcass from which Howard hopes to clone a living example. They find a perfectly preserved specimen. Huddled against it is a frozen human, 12,000 years old. He’s wearing a wrist watch. Nearby lies a briefcase. Howard summons super-geek physicist Matt Wright to his warehouse in California to examine the briefcase. Along with some bits of circuitry, it contains an array of spheres set in a sort of movable Rubik’s Cube matrix. Howard proceeds with the mammoth-cloning program, hiring elephant expert Susan Morgan to oversee the pregnancy. Matt replicates the briefcase device but can’t get anything to work. Some nutty animal-rights fanatics break into the warehouse. One takes a whack at a time machine—and Matt, Susan, the warehouse and the elephants arrive 12,000 years in the past! Though the elephants head off for pastures new, there are plenty of real mammoths around. In an inspired moment, Matt manipulates the spheres and brings himself, Susan and several mammoths back to the present. Varley tells us a children’s story about one of the survivors, Little Fuzzy, in alternate chapters. Soon, mysterious agents kidnap Matt and relentlessly interrogate him about the time machine, but even he can’t figure it out. Can the past or the present be changed? Who invented the time machine? And who is fated to die 12,000 years in the past?

Sometimes amusing and informative but more often barely tepid, with stock characters, a contrived mess of a plot and ideas that refuse to delve beneath the superficial.