|Prophet of Bones: An Interview with Ted Kosmatka|
|conducted by Dave Truesdale|
In the promotional material the publisher provided with the book there is a Q&A with you wherein you state:
This set me to scratching my head a bit. If the fossil record in this creationist world is identical to our own, does this mean all of the fossils we have in our world also show up in the creationist Earth, but the carbon-14 dating shows nothing older than 5,800 years? Same fossils, just different dates (nothing older than 5,800 years old) from ours? And if so, then why are the uncategorizable skeletal remains at the Flores dig so upsetting to those wanting to suppress them if they aren't showing up as older than 5,800 years? Do they show something else that would overturn the young-creationist applecart and worldview?
Also, these weren't the bones of some primitive ape-creature, no ardipithecus ramidus, upright but still very much animal.
The bones on Flores crossed that line between Man and Not-Man, and yet they were found in context with stone tools. The bones belonged to beings who were hunters, just as we were hunters. They had fire. They fashioned spears. They were obviously very much not mere animals, and yet they also weren't us. If God created Man in His image, then who, exactly, created these creatures? In a creationist world, scientific discoveries take on deep religious significance, and a new find that throws accepted dogma on its ear has the potential to go off like a bomb. Powerful people with an investment in the status quo might have great motivation to control the release of scientific information.
Your story is now about one man's attempt to prove, by undeniable DNA testing, that such a divergent and totally separate genetic species existed, and the efforts by several important factions to suppress the truth (and the foundations of creationist philisophy) at all costs. At this point, Prophet of Bones becomes a scientific techno-thriller, a high-stakes life and death struggle for the protagonist, Paul Carlsson, and his evidence to survive, while all the forces a certain segment of the government tries to bring to bear against him are unleashed -- including a behind-the-scenes player perhaps even more dangerous than the governmental forces. This poor archaeologist whistle blower is being hit from all directions, and from whom and why he has no idea. Paul learns the hard way he can't even trust those he knew as friends, ratcheting up the paranoia factor and heightening the dramatic tension several times. You give us one man, on the run and not knowing whom to trust, several friends murdered, others betraying him, while he holds the evidence that will shake his world to its very core. It's a great page-turner of a story, with a deep theosophical question anchoring the action tale.
You make genetic science and evolutionary biology core elements of the story, taking great pains to explain -- in terms lay readers will understand even if they possess only the most rudimentary knowledge of the concepts involved -- the hows and whys of these sciences as they work through the story, for even in this creationist world the people believe in the science their instruments reveal to them. Along the way, of course, the reader gets quite an easy to swallow education in these matters, which I very much appreciated. It made the story that much more believable and grounded, yet in no way slowed the pace of the ongoing high-tech spy vs. spy-type manhunt.
Could you talk a bit about the genetic and evolutionary science aspects of the story? Why it was so crucial to the plot to provide the detail you did; why it would put an irrefutable nail in the creationist coffin (in the book's fictional world as well as our own); your background fascination with it in general, and some of the research you did for the book? I enjoyed the book on both the plot-driven and intellectual levels, the latter providing an additional and much-welcomed layer of involvement.
Some people read newspapers; I read scientific journals. This makes for fairly lame water cooler talk, but it does give me the kind of background that could be useful in writing a book like this. Also, writing Prophet gave me the perfect excuse to do even more research, which is something I'm always happy to do. It was a textbook case of writing my obsessions. The trick is to not go overboard with it and bore your readers with an avalanche of scientific information at the cost of a fast moving plot. It certainly is a balancing act, and one that I'm never really certain that I get right. Part of it is that there have been so many amazing advancements in recent years, and I feel like a great many of the age-old questions in anthropology and genetics are now being definitively answered. There is this urge to hold up the latest passel of genetic findings and shout, have you all seen what's going on? It is an amazing time to be alive. We no longer have to wonder if humans and Neanderthals interbred. We no longer have to wonder about the migration patterns of ancient peoples. I can spend $100 on a DNA test that will tell me if I'm a carrier for any of the two dozen most common genetic diseases while at the same time it divides my genome into percentiles of ancestry from various parts of the world. How does that change things from when I was an altar boy at St. Pat's as a kid?
Writing a novel takes a long time, and a lot of energy, so it's not something I'd push forward on unless there was something I was trying to figure out as I was writing. I wrote the book because I really did want to explore the thought experiment to its logical conclusion, and I was curious where that would be.
The whole situation is balanced on a knife edge, and these new fossils could be just the push that will take things past the tipping point. Martial's motivation for going after Paul lies in his own desire to maintain his safe little bubble of autonomy. By silencing Paul, Martial keeps his political benefactors happy, and by keeping them happy he's able to ensure they turn a blind eye on the questionable experiments he's been running. In a lot of ways, Martial is meant to be a counterpoint to Paul. They are opposites, and yet they are searching for an answer to the same question: how do you decide what it is to be human?
Putting together a rational, consistent worldview that contains both a young Earth and the fossil record as we know it was a challenge, and I'm not sure to what extent I pulled it off, though I certainly did try. At times though, it felt like I was thinking myself into a Mœbius strip, so putting yourself in that headspace for months at a time does have its pitfalls. In the end, for me, it was about that search for the root of our humanity, and that's a search that both science and religion are very familiar with.
Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award four times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
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