Bulky assemblage—it's a stretch to call this a novel—of animated dioramas endeavoring to illustrate the story of primate evolution. The token frame here concerns the journey of two friends, paleontologist Joan Useb and primatologist Alyce Sigurdardottir, to attend a conference in Darwin, Australia, in 2031. The planet's ecology and climate are threatened, the huge volcano on nearby Rabaul is close to exploding—and to cap it all, terrorists attack the conference. Meanwhile, robots on Mars succeed in replicating themselves. Baxter (Icebones, 2002, etc.) intersperses this with dramatic paleontological reconstructions and speculations. Proto-primates beat the competition in the Cretaceous. Brainy dinosaurs, unknown in the fossil record, become extinct in the Jurassic. Primates evolve and adapt swiftly during the Tertiary. Monkeys arrive in the New World. Dinosaurs survive on Antarctica until ten million years ago. Five million years later, apes descend from the trees. Hand axes become popular about 1.5 million years ago. Politics, murder, and beer are invented before 10,000 b.c. Fifth-century Rome seethes with treachery. Finally, in 2031, the volcano explodes, devastating Earth. Mars, meanwhile, is eaten up by the replicating machines, which go on to colonize the galaxy. A millennium after the volcano, a group of British servicemen awaken from cryonic suspension to find that primitive post-humans have already lost the power of speech. Devolution, thereafter, continues rapidly. The last primates, half a billion years hence, subside with barely a gasp.
Infotainment: glum, dyspeptic, and depressing.