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Stephen Baxter
Victor Gollancz, 292 pages

Stephen Baxter
Stephen Baxter was born in 1957 and was raised in Liverpool. He studied mathematics at Cambridge and got a PhD from Southampton. He worked in information technology and lives in Buckinghamshire, England. His first story, "The Xeelee Flower," was published in Interzone 19.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Vacuum Diagrams
SF Site Review: Titan
Stephen Baxter Interview
Book Review: Ring
Book Review: Flux
Stephen Baxter Tribute Site
Stephen Baxter Interview

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

In Silverhair, Stephen Baxter created a complex and rich, matriarchal cultural history for his herd of mammoths who were among the last of their type living in a modern world. Throughout the novel, he referred to the mythic adventures of an ancestor who became the only bull mammoth to be featured in the Cycle. In Longtusk, Baxter relates the entire story of that mammoth's rise to prominence and his adventures as related by Silverhair, the protagonist of the earlier work.

As with Silverhair, Longtusk is Baxter's attempt to portray the mammoth in as realistic and accurate a manner as possible while allowing for a certain anthropomorphic mentality to make their story understandable to humans. Although ostensibly aimed at children, Longtusk is not written in a condescending manner and is enjoyable for both children and adults, who can each find something in this coming-of-age story.

Baxter begins the novel with an episode from Longtusk's days of greatness when he stood up to Teeth-of-Death, a saber tooth cat. Once establishing what Longtusk would become, Baxter returns to the mammoth's youth when he is a 12-year old dealing with common adolescent problems including a younger sister and a seemingly uncaring mother. In structuring the book in this manner, Baxter allows himself to portray Longtusk in less than heroic terms as he grows up even as the reader is aware that he will eventually become a great hero. Although this also means the reader knows that Longtusk will survive his adolescent adventures, the title of the book and the prologue as told by Silverhair indicate as much.

The novel is divided into three parts. The opening sequence begins with Longtusk's conviction as a young mammoth that he is destined for greatness and ends with his being taken into captivity by the fireheads, a tribe of cro-magnons who used mastodons for labour. The second section covers the time Longtusk was in servitude to the fireheads and his gradual acceptance of that role until he comes into contact once again with a herd of mammoths and his memories of his youth are rekindled. The final part of the book details the events which allowed Longtusk to achieve his destiny and become the only bull mammoth named in the Cycle.

In Silverhair, Baxter was able to focus on the creation of the mammoth culture, a matriarchal society which segregated the bulls from the cows upon their achieving maturity. With Silverhair, a female, Baxter's focus on the female part of the society made sense, and it seemed likely that Longtusk would explore the male side of the society. However, Longhair has only minimal, and premature, contact with a herd of bull mammoths and Baxter does not ever show that side of mammoth culture. Instead, he spends his time creating two other cultures, the culture of the mastodons-in-captivity and the fireheads who have subjugated them. Longtusk, of course, is a complete foreigner to both cultures, which allows Baxter to fully explain how the cultures operate to both Longtusk and the reader.

More importantly, Longtusk's time among the fireheads allows him to comprehend, more fully than any other mammoth, the admonitions that things are changing more rapidly than they ever had in the past. Mammoth society is a traditional culture which firmly believes that things which have happened before will happen again (note that the name of their lore is "The Cycle"). Longtusk understands that the emergence of the tool-wielding fireheads means that the cycle has been broken and new solutions are necessary. Eventually, Longtusk becomes the mammoth's Moses, attempting to lead his race into a promised land where there is food and water and where they can be forever free of the fireheads.

Longtusk is an interesting tale of the origins of mankind told by a creature who can watch, and even influence, events, but who can clearly see that the fireheads are encroaching upon the entire land. Baxter has created an interesting world and, by using Proboscideans as his narrators, he places a unique spin on the story he is telling and on its interpretations.

Copyright © 2000 by Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is one of the founders and judges for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. He sits on concoms for Windycon, Chicon 2000 and Clavius in 2001 and is co-chair of Picnicon 1998. Steven will be serving as the Programming Chairman for Chicon 2000. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is trying to get his short stories published and has recently finished his first novel. He lives at home with his wife and 3200 books. He is available for convention panels.

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