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Authors: Michael Bishop

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Ancient of Days

BOOK: Ancient of Days
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Table of Contents

FAIRWOOD PRESS

Bonney Lake, WA

W
hat if a living specimen of
Homo habilis
appeared in the pecan grove of a female artist living in Georgia? What if she reached out to her ex-husband, a restaurant owner in the small town of Beulah Fork, to help her establish the creature’s precise identity?

From these dramatic speculations, Michael Bishop creates a complex story spanning several years in the late 1980s and intertwining the lives of many fascinating and/or exasperating characters, including . . .

RuthClaire Loyd
, an artist tasked with a project to illustrate several species of early human progenitors;

Paul Loyd
, the narrator of
Ancient of Days
, who believes that his rekindled devotion to RuthClaire will somehow win her back;

Brian Nollinger
, an anthropologist at the Yerkes Primate Center, whom Paul brings into their lives with disconcerting results;

Dwight “Happy” McElroy
, a televangelist who never passes up a chance to fund-raise, proselytize, or damn;

A. P. Blair
, a world-famous authority on human evolution who at first believes that RuthClaire’s “hominid” is an inept hoax;

and
Adam Montaraz
, the living human fossil whom RuthClaire has named and dared to take into her home.

Over the course of
Ancient of Days
, these characters and others work out their loves and conflicts across a variety of backdrops—from rural Georgia to the bistros and back alleys of Atlanta, all the way to the forests and caves of antique Montaraz, an enigmatic island under the dictatorial sway of “Baby Doc” Duvalier of Haiti.

A rare combination of science fiction, noir mystery, and comedy of manners,
Ancient of Days
will involve and challenge you as have few other novels.

ANCIENT OF DAYS

A Fairwood Press Book

September 2013

Copyright © 1985 Michael Bishop

All Rights Reserved

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or

by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording,

or by any information storage and retrieval system, without

permission in writing from the publisher.

Fairwood Press

21528 104th Street Court East

Bonney Lake, WA 98391

www.fairwoodpress.com

Cover illustration & design by

Paul Swenson

Book design by

Patrick Swenson

First published in the United States of America by Arbor House Publishing

Company in July 1985, and in the United Kingdom by Paladin, an imprint

of Grafton Books, a division of the Collins Publishing Group in November 1987.

ISBN13: 978-1-933846-39-2

First Fairwood Press Edition: September 2013

Printed in the United States of America

eISBN: 978-1-62579-328-7

Electronic version by Baen Books

For David Hartwell,

who has ridden to the rescue more times than the U.S. cavalry

Far Too Human:
An Introduction to Michael Bishop’s
Ancient of Days

by Michael H. Hutchins

When volume thirteen of
Universe
, Terry Carr’s highly respected annual anthology series, appeared in the summer of 1983, Michael Bishop’s novella “Her Habiline Husband” occupied its lead-off spot and encompassed over a third of the anthology’s total length. Other stories in its line-up were by such science-fiction luminaries as Ian Watson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucius Shepard, and Bruce Sterling, but many readers considered Bishop’s novella the stand-out story not only of
Universe 13
, but of that entire year. This assertion is supported by the fact that the following year “Her Habiline Husband” placed first in the novella category in the readers’ polls of both
Locus
and
Science Fiction Chronicle
magazines.

Michael’s fellow writers must have also liked the story. “Her Habiline Husband” was a finalist for the Nebula Award from the Science Fiction Writers of America. But just as had happened a decade earlier when Michael’s “Death and Designation Among the Asadi” and “The White Otters of Childhood” knocked each other out of contention, he had another story (“The Gospel According to Gamaliel Crucis”) of novella length on the Nebula ballot in 1984, resulting in a likely splitting of the Bishop vote. In any case, neither of his two finalists won the award.

In an email exchange about the novella, Michael revealed that its title owes an obvious debt to John Collier’s short novel
His Monkey Wife
, and that the ending mirrors that of William Faulkner’s “Dry September,” a Mississippi-noir short story about an unorthodox variety of lynching.
1

Writing “Her Habiline Husband” as a stand-alone story, Michael had no early plans to expand it into a novel. Only later did he decide that there was “more story to the story” and sit down to write two additional parts to complete the novel, with the original novella as its opening section.

“I’ve never altogether trusted the idea of expanding a story to novel length by injecting a metaphorical air hose and inflating it from within,” Michael responded when asked about the “expansion” of the novella into
Ancient of Days
. “Instead, I believe in expansions that grow from the kernel of the original story and then unfold in a more organic way. I should quickly add, however, that I may not always succeed in effecting a satisfyingly organic novelization because of this philosophy and this approach.”

(In this regard, I, and many other readers, believe that Bishop does succeed in that very aim in
Ancient of Days
.)

Bishop’s first attempt at this form of expansion has its embodiment in the 1979 novel
Transfigurations
, which grew from the excellent, often anthologized 1973 novella “Death and Designation Among the Asadi.” The lightly revised novella became the prologue of the novel, much in the same way that “Her Habiline Husband” serves as the opening section of
Ancient of Days
.

I think it illuminating to note that this form of expansion exactly follows the pattern of Theodore Sturgeon’s 1953 novel,
More Than Human
, a work that Michael and many others in the science-fiction community recognize as a masterpiece. The basic structure of
Ancient of Days
, the foundation on which Sturgeon and Bishop build their novels, is identical to that of
More Than Human
. Like Sturgeon’s opening novella (“Baby Is Three”), Bishop’s “Her Habiline Husband” is a self-contained story, with the latter two novellas being dependent on the preceding ones to fulfill their respective author’s narrative and thematic aims.

In addition to acknowledging John Collier and William Faulkner for influencing the original novella, Michael credits several writers of hard-boiled detective fiction for shaping the substance, style, and format of the resulting novelization: “Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross Macdonald go almost without saying, but I must also point to the popular series that I was reading in the early 1980s, namely, the Jacob Asch novels by Arthur Lyons and the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker. Incidentally, I’ve always felt that Lyons’s work, in particular, never garnered the acclaim that it deserved.” This influence manifests undeniably in the second section of the novel, “His Heroic Heart,” where the story shifts from Beulah Fork, the bucolic small west Georgia town setting of “Her Habiline Husband,” to the bustling “mean streets” of Atlanta with its art-gallery and nightclub scenes.

Concerning the novel’s title, Michael admits, “Once I’d finished the writing and most of my revisions, I had no idea what to call the entire book, but David Hartwell, who often came to my rescue while editing my work, suggested
Ancient of Days
, a venerable Hebrew name for God and the title of a powerful Christian hymn, and I told him that the only thing wrong with it is that I hadn’t thought of it myself. David laughed ruefully and said something like, ‘Yes, well, there’s that.’ ”

So what about the novel itself?

It begins in a peaceful pecan grove in the rural South and ends on the serene beach of a remote Caribbean island. In between, important questions are asked by the central character, and by extension, the author. What does it mean to be human? Is our humanity in our genes or in our actions? Does every living creature have a soul? Is that soul a gift from a divine spirit, or is it simply biological?

In a 2003 public radio interview, Michael said, “What I was attempting to do with Adam [the novel’s central character] was to show, in some respects, through a single individual, the evolution of an entire species, an entire race of creatures who are moving towards both sentience and spirituality. How did it happen that human beings came to have a sense, a feeling of connectiveness to the Sacred? I wanted to take a look at a creature who came out of a background that many of us would consider primitive and deprived, and yet, at the same time, show that there is something in that individual that is yearning toward something else. When he finally reaches a situation where he has a degree of safety, these questions come to the fore in his own mind. How can one person go through life never asking these questions at all, and another person spends his or her entire life asking them? Adam was one of those individuals for whom these questions had a great deal of significance. And until he could answer them to his own satisfaction, he didn’t feel that he had completed himself as an authentic creature, whether that happened to be a creature of God or a creature of Nature.

“Adam evolves during the course of the novel from being a very primitive creature to [becoming] perhaps the noblest individual in the whole book. He attempts to confront all of the aspects of contemporary society and to incorporate those things in himself, to judge them, to test them, and to evaluate them. His nobility arises from actually transcending some of the faults that we have as a society now, but he does that consciously, and not as a completely primitive individual.”
2

Among his several published novel-length works, Michael considers
Ancient of Days
“probably my second favorite, although on some days it does come in first. I think it deserves to outlive me, but writers do not control the ultimate fate of their works, and so this opinion may be more interesting for what it says about my narcissistic prioritizing than for its insight into my critical acumen.”

This first new print edition of the novel in more than eighteen years strengthens my hope that a new generation of grateful readers will discover
Ancient of Days
and that it will live again in the hearts of all who have read it before.

1
Email from Michael Bishop to Michael H. Hutchins, July 9, 2012.

2
Cover to Cover: Ancient of Days
. Broadcast on Georgia Public Radio, September 28, 2003. Interviewer: St. John Flynn.

BOOK: Ancient of Days
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