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Mammoths Of The Great Plains by Eleanor Arnason

1/8/2010. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Mammoths Of The Great Plains in the USA - or Buy Mammoths Of The Great Plains in the UK

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pub: PM Press. 142 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $12.00 (US), 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-60486-075-7.

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'Mammoths Of The Great Plains' consists of three parts: the title story, plus the transcript of a speech entitled 'Writing Science Fiction During World War III', that was first given at a convention in the US, and a lengthy interview with author Eleanor Arnason. Both of these latter sections are interesting enough and particularly the interview gives an insight into the story behind 'Mammoths' and Eleanor Arnason's development as a writer. Much of the speech deals with societal and political change that affects technology and the environment. There's a lot of interesting information there for those who follow such things, though I found it a bit too much for my limited appetite.

The title story takes up eighty-odd pages and is thoroughly engrossing from start to finish. So much so that I became frustrated at the lack of breaks. After about five pages in there are none. I think most readers are like me in that we like to stop at a chapter heading or other natural break, but I kept having to break off at randomly-chosen intervals.

The story is told by a young native American girl who visits her Lakota grandmother and listens to her stories of the mammoths and the way that their fate was inextricably linked with that of the Lakota and other tribes. The majority of the tale concerns the grandmother's grandmother, a pioneering biologist who in the early twentieth century worked tirelessly to save the diminishing mammoth herds from extinction. You may wonder why the story couldn't have just been told by the grandmother instead of by the girl. Or why, indeed, it wasn't just told by the grandmother's grandmother as a first-hand tale. The story could possibly have been more dramatic, more immediate that way but it wouldn't have been the same story. The native American story-telling tradition, the comfort of sitting at grandma's house listening to stories of family history, the long-term view provided by the format of the story, all serve to build this gentle yet involving tale into something grand and wonderful.

Just to take you back a moment, yes I did say mammoth herds in the twentieth century. This is an alternate history written with amazing subtlety. Various famous characters and historical events are mentioned throughout the narrative when they tie in with the decline of the mammoths. I'm not entirely familiar with all of them, not being American, but they were well-known enough to give the tale the feel of an authentic piece of history. It's an epic tale in a pocket-sized package.

Gareth D. Jones

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