cover image The Cretaceous Past

The Cretaceous Past

Cixin Liu, trans. from the Chinese by Elizabeth Hanlon. Subterranean, $40 (192p) ISBN 978-1-64524-015-0

Liu (the Three-Body Problem trilogy) delivers a sharp allegory of ant-dinosaur relations in this high concept alternate history. After relieving a distressed Tyrannosaurus of a bit of meat stuck in its teeth, ants rapidly become caregivers to the entire range of “terrible lizards.” In turn, the creative dinosaurs think up new tasks for them, as well as inventions that the dexterous ants can create. Despite the massive size difference, the two kinds of creatures cooperate in building a technologically advanced civilization that reaches into space. Unfortunately, religious controversies, ecological stresses, and bias (“Those bite-sized brains of yours are obviously only fit for simple arithmetical thinking”) break down the interspecies union and lead to disastrous war. Liu mingles real science with prescientific beliefs and invests his critters with enough anthropomorphic attributes to make them understandable but not so much as to render them humans in costumes, similar to Orwell’s masterful pigs and sheep in Animal Farm. Fans of smart, politically charged sci-fi should check this out. (May)