by Roger MacBride Allen



345pp/$3.50/February 1988

Orphan of Creation
Cover by Carl Purcell

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

During Thanksgiving on the family farm in Gowrie, Mississippi, Dr. Barbara Marchando discovered an account by her ancestor, Zebulon Jones, of a strange race of gorillas brought to Gowrie in 1851 to work alongside the Black slaves. Marchando, a paleoanthropologist begins digging only to discover that the presumed gorillas were really Australopithicines. Naturally, Marchando, along with her colleagues from the Smithsonian, goes in search of any surviving Australopithicines.

As with Michael Bishop's Ancient of Days or Harry Turtledove's A Different Flesh, what Roger MacBride Allen is really examining in Orphan of Creation is the definition of what it means to be human. Allen's novel, of course, has many similarities to both of the other works, even sharing the same essay as its point of origin with the Turtledove, but of course each author's perception of the specifics is different.

Allen looks at the situation from a scientific point of view. Although religious themes are introduced, they are mostly from an staunch anti-evolutionary point of view and almost one-dimensional. Allen succeeds much more when he is focusing on the scientific method and the search for Australopithicines. In fact, Allen's portions of Orphan of Creation can almost be read as if they were a description of time spent on an actual archaeological dig. There is something in the way Allen recites the cold figures and tedious tasks that makes them interesting, not only to Barbara Marchando's cousin Livingston Jones, but also to the reader.

If Orphan of Creation has a fault, it is that Allen tends to jump between viewpoint characters a little too often. These quick jumps don't allow the reader to fully get inside any one character, but give a few hints at their motives. Similarly, having such a large cast in a short book means that Allen must turn his back on characters frequently. In the early portions of the novel, Livingston Jones plays a major role. Despite his continued presence until the end, he fades more and more into the background, in dimensionality if not in actions. Allen even dismisses Barbara Marchando, his catalyst in this matter towards the end of the novel when he suddenly finds the need to switch viewpoints.

Two of Allen's main characters, Barbara Marchando and Livingston Jones are black. Their slavery heritage is what provides the impetus for the entire novel. Nevertheless, Allen doesn't fully explore what being an African-American in this situation would mean. Jones notes his feelings of foreigness upon arriving in Africa, but that is about as far as Allen seems to be willing to explore. A plot twist which would provoke racists in the real world doesn't even have a tinge of racism when Allen introduces it to the novel. By divorcing the question of what makes a person human from the question of "race," Allen doesn't completely answer the questions he raises in Orphan of Creation.

Allen's definition of what makes someone human is, perhaps, more clinical and infinitely more measurable than the definition in Bishop or Turtledove. Allen has shown he is capable of the research necessary to write a great science fiction novel as well as the ability to present that information in an enjoyable and understandable manner.

Purchase this book from Amazon Books (New Foxacre Press edition)

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