Paleoanthropology Fiction

This is a list of fictional works of paleoanthropological interest. I only included books if they featured extinct hominids (so, no novels about prehistoric modern humans). Be warned: given the lack of information about the lifestyles of non-Homo sapiens hominids, such works are at best speculative, and at worst highly implausible.

Email me if you know of any other works that should be included.

For a much wider range of paleontological and prehistoric fiction and non-fiction, visit the Prehistoric Fiction page by Steve Trussel.

For a literature review of prehistoric fiction, see Nicholas Ruddick's book The Fire in the Stone (2009).

The Neanderthal Parallax trilogy, by Robert Sawyer
Hominids (2002)
Humans (2003)
Hybrids (2003)

An enjoyable trilogy about the discovery of a parallel earth inhabited by technologically advanced Neanderthals. Hominids won the 2003 Hugo Award for the best science-fiction novel of the year.

The Earth's Children series, by Jean Auel
The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980)
The Valley of Horses (1982)
The Mammoth Hunters (1985)
The Plains of Passage (1990)
The Shelters of Stone (2002)
The Land of Painted Caves (2011)

In Clan of the Cave Bear, an orphaned human girl is found and raised by a group of Neandertals. The subsequent books continue her life after leaving the clan, and Neandertals play a much smaller role in them. Enjoyable and well researched, although some people find the detail and the length a bit much.

Operation Adam (1997), by Ivan Petrovitch C. (in French)

Almost all of the original hominid fossils, gathered together for an international conference in Tucson, Arizona, are stolen by a secret creationist organization called the Protectors of Adam. The story follows the desperate attempts to retrieve the fossils, then the subsequent court case. (Follow this link for a more extensive discussion of this book)

The Evolution Man, or, How I ate my Father (1960), by Roy Lewis

A very funny comedy about a family of ape-men headed by an ambitious father who is hell-bent on ascending the evolutionary ladder. (Originally published as What we did to Father).

The Inheritors (1955), by William Golding

A story of contact between Neandertals and Cro-Magnons, by the Nobel prize-winning novelist. I have seen other people recommend it highly, but I found it uninteresting. YMMV.

Dance of the Tiger (1980), by Bjorn Kurten

A novel of interaction between Neandertals and Cro-Magnons, as a young man searches for his father's killer. An exciting story, by an eminent European paleontologist who is an expert on Ice-Age faunas.
Read Danny Yee's review of Dance of the Tiger

Singletusk (1986), by Bjorn Kurten

The sequel to Dance of the Tiger. Another enjoyable story.

A Different Flesh (1988), by Harry Turtledove

A book of short stories set in an alternative history in which Homo erectus survives in the Americas until modern times. Turtledove explores how we would react to the existence of an almost but not quite human species, and how it would affect our perception of ourselves. Recommended.

Orphan of Creation (1988), by Roger MacBride Allen

A paleoanthropologist discovers skeletons of australopithecines buried in Mississippi around 1850, which raises the possibility that living australopithecines may still exist in Africa. Their discovery raises a disturbing question: what, exactly, is a human? (Allen also has some commentary on the creation/evolution debate.) Recommended.

La Guerre du Feu/Quest for Fire

, by J.-H. Rosny-aîné
Three young warriors set out on a desperate search for fire, after their tribe loses their fire. One of a number of prehistoric fiction books by this author. It was the source for the movie Quest for Fire (1982).

The Sous le Vent du Monde series, by Pierre Pelot (in French)
Qui regarde la montagne au loin (1996)
Le nom perdu du soleil (1998)
Debout dans le ventre blanc du silence (1999)
Avant la fin du ciel (2000)

A series of novels set at different stages of human evolution, written with the help of French paleoanthropologist Yves Coppens. The first book is set 1.7 million years ago, when Homo habilis and Homo rudolfensis coexisted in Eastern Africa.

Ancient of Days (1985), Michael Bishop

A male Homo habilis is found wandering in Georgia, and embarks on a quest to become more "human".

The Ugly Little Boy (1992), by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg

A time-travel experiment brings a 3 year old Neandertal boy into the near future. This novel is based on a short story of the same name written by Isaac Asimov in 1958.

Almost Adam (1996), by Petru Popescu

A paleoanthropologist discovers australopithecines living in a remote part of Kenya.

Neanderthal (1996), by John Darnton

Paleoanthropologists discover Neandertals living in the remote mountains of Central Asia. (Read a review by Stevi Deter)

Paleoanthropologist Ian Tattersall reviewed the previous two books in Time, May 27, 1996. He didn't think much of either of them, and neither did I. For a book which does a much better job of investigating the issue of what it means to be human, Tattersall recommended the following:

You Shall Know Them (1953), by "Vercors" (Jean Bruller)

A group of primitive hominids is found in New Guinea, and the question arises as to what rights, if any, they have. For example, is there any reason why they should not be used as slave labor, as an Australian businessman plans to do? When a hybrid human-tropi baby is born and the father kills it, the case goes to court, and the jurors must decide whether the baby was human or not.
(This book was re-released in paperback in 1955, under the title The Murder of the Missing Link. It was originally published in French with the title Les animaux dénaturés. It was also made into an obscure 1970 movie, Skullduggery, starring Burt Reynolds. According to the Internet Movie Database, this is "Truly an unbelievably rotten motion picture".)

The Peking Man is Missing (1977), Claire Taschdjian

A fictional account of the disappearance of the Peking Man fossils. The author worked as Franz Weidenreich's secretary, and was familiar with the fossils. Weidenreich and Teilhard de Chardin have thinly disguised counterparts with minor roles in this book, but the other characters are largely or entirely fictional.

Lost in Translation (1998), Nicole Mones

Another book dealing with the Peking Man fossils, although they are much more peripheral than in the previous book. The central character is an American woman working as a translator in China who becomes involved in a search for the missing fossils. Described by as "part mystery, part love story, and part cultural exchange".

Fire Dancer (1996), by Victor Kelleher

Young adults fiction. A boy and a girl in their late teens are stranded in the past with a Neandertal clan after an accident during a sight-seeing trip into the past. An enjoyable story, with one of the more plausible and sympathetic depictions of Neandertals.

A Bone from a Dry Sea (1992), by Peter Dickinson

Children's fiction. Two parallel stories: the life of a group of australopithecines, and a young girl visits her scientist father at a paleontological site in Africa. A good read, though I would feel much happier recommending it if it wasn't based on the Aquatic Ape Theory, which has very little credibility among scientists. Follow this link to see why. (Dickinson does not hide the fact that scientists don't think much of the AAT, but he implies that it is from closemindedness, rather than for scientific reasons)

Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge (1994), by Mike Resnick

From the Oct/Nov 1994 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Despite the name, only marginally related to human evolution, but an excellent story. It won both of science fiction's top awards, the Hugo and the Nebula, for best novella.

Journey from the Dawn (1990), by Donald Johanson and Kevin O'Farrell

An account of the life of a small A. afarensis band. Well illustrated, with many explanatory notes and photos of fossils and living apes to support their reconstruction (which many scientists disagree with) of australopithecine behaviour.

This page is part of the Fossil Hominids FAQ at the Archive.

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