Cover image & design by Paul Swenson
What 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 an ambitious 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 entices into this matter with disconcerting results; Dwight “Happy” McElroy, a televangelist out of Rehobeth, Louisiana, who never passes up a chance to fund-raise, proselytize, or damn; A. P. Blair, a world-famous paleontologist and authority on human evolution, who at first believes that RuthClaire’s “hominid” is an inept hoax; and Adam Montaraz, the habiline himself, a bipedal fossil whom RuthClaire has christened and whom she dares 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.
"Compulsively readable’ is an overused phrase in blurbs and endorsements. But that’s what Bishop’s Ancient of Days demands we say of it. When, in the first paragraph, a hominid wanders into an artist’s pecan grove outside her studio-home in Georgia, we’ve taken the first step into a wonder-filled novel of ideas—ideas that include questions of race, science, art, and spirituality, among many others. Bishop dramatizes each of these with a panache and a narrative energy that are a delight to read and dazzling to watch. Open this book and get set for some wonderfully satisfying reader enjoyment, richly conceived and beautifully executed."
—Samuel R. Delany, author of Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders
"I read this when it first appeared in 1985 and felt at the time it was going to be one of the major novels in the field... [it] deals with the discovery of a surviving homo habilis in the rural south. As you might imagine, this was a way to discuss issues of racial prejudice from a somewhat different perspective. The story is also about several people who are drawn into the event, including an artist, a researcher, and an evangelist, all of whom have their own personal agendas. I still believe this to be one of the most mature and potentially enduring novels the genre ever produced and it’s great to see it back in print."
—Don D'Ammassa, Critical Mass
"Michael Bishop is a novelist who works within the science fiction genre to achieve highly unusual settings without sacrificing a sense of realism. His focus is not on the ins and outs of technology, but on the human condition."
"A marvelous novel—human and amusing and sharp as a razor."
—Greg Bear, author of Hull Zero Three
"A major achievement in speculative fiction. . . . A disturbing and sober reflection on what it means to be human."
"Intriguing speculations and thoughtful development . . . solid and often absorbing."
"A remarkable novel . . . it works as well as it does because the quality and tone of the novel are mainstream rather than SF."
"Michael Bishop has taken anthropology as his special field. This magical novel certifies his insight into primitive and civilized minds, and their stories."
—Gene Wolfe, author of The Book of the New Sun