REVIEW: The Cretaceous Past by Cixin Liu, translated by Elizabeth Hanlon
All the years of human civilization represent an infinitesimal fraction of the time since life first burgeoned on planet Earth. How likely is it, then, in those great depths of time, that humanity alone benefitted from the spark of intelligence which gave rise to culture?
This is the question posed by China’s preeminent science fiction writer for more than twenty years and Hugo-Award-winner for The Three-Body Problem Cixin Liu in his magisterial new short novel, The Cretaceous Past. The answer he offers is unexpected, supposing an unlikely alliance between the largest creatures in the world of the deep past and some of the smallest.
And it all begins with a toothache.
When a Tyrannosaurus rex suffers pain from meat trapped between its enormous teeth, a nearby colony of ants risks entering the great creature’s maw to make their own repast from the remains of the dinosaur’s most recent meal. From this humble beginning, over the course of millennia, a symbiotic civilization achieves amazing advances, reaching dizzying heights in countless endeavors scientific and social, facing dangers and exploiting opportunities at every turn.
In this absorbing tale, Cixin Liu manages to describe the history of successive epochs of a might-have-been world, doing for the past what Olaf Stapledon’s classic Last and First Men did for the future. Here, Liu embarks on a new journey, sure to please the legions of devoted readers of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.
The Cretaceous Past offers Liu at his finest, demonstrating flights of imagination and depths of speculation sure to reward new fans and old alike.
Dear Cixin Liu,
This is my first time trying one of your books and I have to say I liked it. I’m not sure if it’s been altered any from “When Dinosaurs Meet Ants” was published almost twenty years ago. The premise is amusing – a relationship developing between the world’s biggest creatures and some of the smallest that allows the spark of intelligence to flourish, leading to scientific developments. The allegorical comparison to mankind and our own recent antagonistic world relationships is obvious and frightening.
There is a degree of absurdity in believing that dinosaurs might have been capable of creative flights of fancy and intellectual inspirations which, backed by the ants’ tendency to methodical tribal hard work, could lead to a somewhat similar world to what we have now but okay, I’ll go with that. It’s also logical to believe that tensions between them could eventually lead to war on such a scale as to almost wipe out their civilizations. Hubris comes in all sizes. Watching all sides inevitably slide towards global destruction is obviously meant to be a warning to us all. The means by which this is accomplished is, perhaps, a step too far but then we’re discussing talking dinosaurs and ant surgeons so what am I complaining about?
I enjoyed the story and the translation even if there’s a touch of repetition that makes parts drag a bit. B-