MICHAEL SWANWICK'S FIELD GUIDE TO THE MESOZOIC MEGAFAUNA
by Michael Swanwick
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Even as he continues to win Hugos and Nebulas for short stories, novelettes, and novels, Michael Swanwick has quietly been making a name for himself as the author of several series of short-short stories, the types that never show up on the award ballots. Perhaps his highest profile series is the Periodic Table stories which appeared on SciFiction, but he also has a series about dinosaurs, collected as a chapbook by Tachyon Press entitled Michael Swanwick's Field Guide to the Mesozoic Megafauna. Swanwick's stories are all extremely short, rarely venturing over a single page, yet they use irony and humor in order to elicit an intellectual and philosophical response to the situation they set up. The stories are short, but carry a punch. Because of this, the stories have a much greater impact than many longer stories trying to make the same point. The stories are arranged in a chronological era, identified by a short title, the name of the dinosaur that figures most prominently in the story, and the period during which the dinosaur lived. Each title is followed by a short tale, often humorous and always intelligently written. The stories are a wonderful mix of fantasy and science fiction, with the plots, such as they are, completely fantastic while the details, whether historical or paleontological, reveal the attention to detail which is a hallmark of science fiction. Even when Swanwick's facts appear as if they would be imaginary, such as the name Waterhouse Hawkins or noting that the Iguanadon was discovered by Mary Ann Mantell, these facts are real. The more obviously fantastic elements, such as speaking and surviving dinosaurs or faeries, are, of course, made up. Michael Swanwick's Field Guide to the Mesozoic Megafauna may not be entirely easy to find, but it is clever, funny, intelligent and philosophical in ways longer works are not. The brevity of the stories allows the reader to read one, many, or all in a single sitting, but the ironies contained in the book will continue to inspire the reader long after the book has been closed.
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