Monday, August 27, 2012

I recently finished reading Earth's Children by Jean M. Auel. On the final analysis I both liked and hated this series.

I liked it because of the detail and setting background and the interesting situation that was developing. And I hated it because the interesting situation was never resolved and the writing style got progressively worse from book to book. It is small wonder then to learn that several of the books struggled to find a publisher.

We start in "Clan of the Cave Bear" with a great fictional situation where a young human girl is growing up with a group of Archaic Homo Sapiens of realy undetermined species. Nominally they are Neanderthals however their way of life would be primitive even by Neanderthal standards, and they are missing quite a number bit of the sophistication that we would have expected in actual Neanderthal culture.

In any case its an excellent story with a strong protagonist, and a strong antagonist. Occasionally the writing does drift a little and fall into paragraphs of narrator description that is overly technical, but this is rare.
The next two books are still good, though the amount of archeological detail progressively increases. We also start getting overly detailed flashbacks to the previous books and a few too many, also overly detailed, sex scenes. Some of the sex scenes are actually important to the story, but these loose their impact due to the constant repetition.

Its however when we get to the fourth book that the real truble starts. Here there is an overly simple story of getting back home, with a few episodic adventures along the way. If anything the flaws of the first books become amplified. Ayla nad Jondlar's sex life is revisited in tedious detail again and again. Flashbacks likewise increase in frequency and duration and the descriptions of scenery mutate into academic descriptions of Ice age ecology that go on for pages and pages, only to be repeated almost verbatim several chapters later. At least the author does maintain a good paragraph structure, which makes it easier to skim the teduious bits, and I certainly did do a lot of skim reading in this book.

Possibly the most interesting event being the encounter of the tribe who's name starts with A'. Later they are retconed into being of largely mixed stock. And its a pity that this idea is not obvious in this book as it would make an interesting counter to Ayla's general desire to reconcile the two species of human. All in all Plains of Passage was still a reasonable book.

And then we get to the last two books, and for me at least, massive disappointment. It took Jondlar one and a half books to get over his racism and fully accept that the Clan are humans. And yet for most of his people this seems to be almost a non-issue. Which makes me wonder how Jondlar came to have views so much stronger then the rest of his people.

The next problem is that there is no credible antagonist. Instead we have a motley crew of the jilted woman who no one particularly likes. The cave drunkard, and 3/4 cast who's very existence makes no sense, really you'd think that his mother, who was considered to be an abomination, would have been exposed especially as her mother didn't survive the birth. And finally the old adversary of Jondlar's who is now a rather inept acolyte shaman. The problem is that all of these adversaries are already at the periphery of their society, sure they may hate Ayla but there is almost nothing they can do about it.

After all the buildup in previous books this is an extreme letdown. Instead Jondlar should have returned to find an altered situation where his enemies, who are now Ayla's as well are in positions of power and his friends and relations have been reduced. This strange woman's arrival should have been that catalyst that almost started a civil war among the Zelondoni. At least then Ayla would have had something to do which is slightly more interesting then having a baby and looking at some caves.

And then there is the other anticipated conflict that never arrived, that between the modern humans and their more archaic predecessors.Heck this one was even been hinted at as recently as the fifth book, and it never arrived. THe clan was hardly mentioned in the final book. Instead what we got was more flashbacks then we knew what to do with. Worst yet some of them actually contradicted the original book. Such as the claim that the Marmut of the Lion Camp was first, when he most definitely wasn't.

Instead of the promised racial conflict we get a tour of various archeological sites. And Ayla going public with her revelation about sex. What is even more frustrating is the relatively small amount of conflict this generates. You'd think that this if nothing else would have caused some kind of break, with some subgroup of the Shammen refusing to make it public and taking their caves away, we already had the Zelondoni of the 14th cave set up as a potential adversary, but nope, she shuts up and accepts the news along with everyone else. Heck by the end of it when we get the internal monolog of Ayla's few detractors fuming about how she was able to waltz in and change everything, I found myself agreeing with them.

So I finally got the the last page of the last book, and then I turned it looking for some kind of closure or climax to the story. Is this is? I asked myself. I may have enjoyed most of the journey, but the destination was really not worth it.