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A family chronicles the story of the human triumph and tragedy as its members are reborn again and again throughout Earth's history, from Africa's Great Rift Valley to the Andes a century from now.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Piers Anthony is one of the world's most popular fantasy authors, and a New York Times bestseller twenty-one times over. His Xanth novels have been read and loved by millions of readers around the world, and he daily receives hundreds of letters from his devoted fans.
In addition to the Xanth series, Anthony is the author of many other best-selling works. Piers Anthony lives in Inverness, Florida.
Five million years ago, in the western arm of the Great Rift Valley in Africa, the chimp that walked like a man was perfecting his stride. Australopithecus afarensis was forced to forage on the dangerous open ground because the forest had diminished and there was too much competition for the resources of the trees. To do this, he had to lift his upper body up and balance on his hind legs. The supposedly simple act of walking habitually on two feet--bipedalism--entailed a complicated series of bodily adjustments. The spine had to reverse part of its curve so that the head could be right above the feet, the pelvis had to be reshaped to support a torso that would otherwise sag, the feet had to straighten out the big toes and develop arches for shock absorption, and the knees had to lock so that prolonged walking would not wear then out. None of this developed quickly; probably at least a million years were required. But for the purpose of this story, it is assumed that the knees happened in a single mutation applying to the younger generation of a small roving band. Thus for the first time these folk were able to travel comfortably on two feet, and extend their range considerably.
But was bipedalism necessary? Why didn't mankind simply range out four-footed, as the baboons did? Why undertake the formidable complications of a change unique among mammals? This may at one time have been a close call. But Australopithecus, having descended from the trees with his head set vertically, had the ability to go either way, and there was one compelling reason that two feet were better than four. It would have been better for the baboons, too, had they been able to do it.
At this stage speech would have been extremely limited, with an assortment of sounds perhaps emulating the animals they represented, and a few key connecting words. But the expressions of chimpanzees in the wild are more varied and useful than some may credit, and the brain of Australopithecus was slightly larger than that of the chimp. So probably his vocabulary was larger and more effective than the chimp's, though not by much.
* * *
Sam ranged out across the eerie barrens. HE was the eldest juvenile male of the band; soon he would be adult. But the adult members would not take him seriously until he proved himself. So he had to survive alone for long enough to prove his capability, and locate a good source of food; then he would be allowed to help protect the band and to mate with all its grown females except his mother. Mothers were funny about that: they would accept attention from any male of any age except the one they knew best. So now he braved the unfamiliar region, hoping there was something there. Part of the challenge was nerve; it took courage to go out alone, and courage was one of the differences between adults and juveniles, among the males, at least. He was nervous, but refused to turn back until he found something.
The sun was hot, very hot. Normally the band folk found shelter in the middle of the day, grooming each other's pelts, copulating, or merely snoozing. But Sam didn't dare relax while alone, because there was no one to watch out for him. A leopard could attack. Of course a predator could attack anyway, especially since Sam was alone, but was less likely to bother an alert person. So he forged on despite the discomfort. The heat made him tired, and he staggered, but wouldn't quit. He had to prove he was adult. Had to keep going, no matter what.
He followed the known path to its end, then cast about for some animal trial. Sam was not the band's smartest member, but he had a good eye for paths, and that had always helped him get around. People paths were easy to follow, and not just because they were close and familiar; the smell of people feet was on them. Animal paths varied; they could be discontinuous, or pass under brambles, or enter dangerous caves. But they were close and familiar; the smell of people feet was on them. Animal paths varied; they could be discontinuous, or pass under brambles, or enter dangerous caves. But they were better than nothing, because any path led somewhere, and it was more useful to go somewhere than nowhere. Some times they led to water that wasn't otherwise easy to find. So he continued along the animal paths, going wherever the animals went. Until at last the ground became too dry and hard to show any path clearly, leaving him uncertain. The only path was now the trail of scuff marks his feet left in the dirt behind him. But of course that path led in the wrong direction.
The sun beat down on his fur, making it burningly hot. It was midday, and the heat blurred his vision. He thought he saw pools ahead, but knew from experience that it wasn't so. There was no water out here on a dry day like this. The thought made him thirsty, but still he refused to turn back in defeat. He was determined to find something, anything, and be an adult. So he plowed on through the blur, trying to ignore the heat and his thirst.
He felt tired, then oddly light. His feet moved slowly, but hardly seemed to touch the ground. It was as if they were detached from him, moving of their own accord, carrying him along like some separate burden. His head seemed to want to float from his shoulders. How long had he been walking? He didn't know, but it felt like days. Everything was somehow different. But he just kept going.
Something strange happened. The sun seemed to expand, becoming enormous. It bathed him in its fierce light, making him dizzy. A dreadful foreboding came, and then a horrible fear. Something terrible was happening:
The fiery fringe of the sun passed beyond him, enclosing him within its territory. Great vague shapes loomed within it, threatening him, glaring with eyes of flame and licking with tongues of smoke. Doom! Doom! they cried, saying the sound of warning, of terror, of grief. Sam wanted to turn about, to flee, but would not, though he knew it meant destruction. Anyway, he had no path to follow, so would only get lost if he fled.
Then he was falling, falling, for a long time, the barren plain tilting around him. He felt the shock of landing, but it was far away. He was down, and had to get up, but some-how he could not. Something awful was going to happen if he didn't flee, but his body would not move.
Why hadn't he fled back along his own path, while still on his feet? Because he had been unable to admit defeat. Now he had suffered that defeat anyway.
A long time passed. Then he discovered that the sun was down, and the cool of evening was coming. He had to return home--and he had failed to find anything.
Sam got up. He was logy, and his head hurt, but he seemed merely bruised, not injured. He brushed off his fur hand started back, dejected, following his own spoor until he could pick up a suitable animal trial. He had failed to find food. He was not yet an adult.
He moved slowly back the way he had come, quiet because he lacked the vigor to be noisy. The land darkened around him. Then he heard something, and paused, looking.
Two warthogs were stirring in the bush. One grunted and snuffled at the other, its projecting teeth-tusks gleaming in the twilight. Sam looked warily around for a rock or stick he could use to try to beat the boar off, as there was no nearby tree to climb. But eh hog ignored him. It scrambled up, putting its forelegs on the back of the other, who was squealing in seeming protest, and pulled in close. Oh--they were mating. No threat there, as long as he didn't try to interfere.
Mating. Which was what Sam wouldn't get to do, having been unsuccessful on his mission. Dispirited, he walked on. He found increasingly clear paths, which he could follow even in the darkness. So he would make it safely back, for what little that was worth.
When he reached the camp, his sister Flo was the first to spy him. She was almost as old as he, and would soon have to leave the bank and find another band, so she could mate and have a baby of her own. It would be sad to see her go, for she was his closest companion and friend, but it was the way it was.
Flo ran to him, and hugged him. Her fur was sleek and fine. "Find?" she asked, making the general purpose query sound.
"Doom," he said, repeating the horror of the sun, and shivering, thought it was not yet cool.
Now the other young folk clustered around, eager to know how he had done. They did not understand doom, because he had returned safely. "Find! Find!" they chorused.
So he tried to tell them what else he had seen, making the grunt and squeal of the mating warthogs. They laughed, "Sam grunt ugh!" The implication was that Sam wanted to mate with an ugly warthog.
But Flo did not laugh. Her face showed concern. She knew that he had sought experience and status. She knew he had failed. She hugged him again, trying to cheer him, but it was no good. Maybe the children were right. Maybe it was a curse on him, to suffer disaster and humiliation.
Flo tried once more. She brought him a fruit to eat. This was unusual, because normally sharing occurred only when a female mated with a male and took food. The two of them when a female gave her young child food. The two of them would never mate, because they were band siblings, thought neither was really a child. Oh, they could mate, as some other siblings did, but were not inclined; they were too close. He accepted the fruit, because he was hungry after his day without eating. Then he went to his favored tree and climbed into it to sleep. Maybe in the morning his shame of failure would hurt less fiercely, in the manner a cut toe eased as it healed.
Two days later the group of elder children was foraging in a deep valley when a storm threatened. The tended to forage together, because all of them were in that awkward stage between weaning and maturity, too old to be cared for by the adult, and too young to be adults themselves. Sam hated still being a child, but until he went out alone again and found significant good food for the band, he would not be accepted as adult. He couldn't to that yet, because of the overwhelming feeling of doom his first attempt had left him with. He seemed to be cursed, but he couldn't understand how or why.
They started to return to the safety of their camp, but the storm rushed in too swiftly. The clouds swelled and hurled down their rain in a sudden deluge. The drops were cold despite the heat of the air. They blasted the children and the rocks, thickening into a torrent. The water sluiced through the narrow left cleft leading from the safe upper valley to the richer lower valley, making it into a turbulent river. The group had to retreat from it, bowing their heads before the onslaught; they could not pass that water.
Sam, staring at it, felt again the horror of his vision. "Doom," he said. The sky itself was chasing him, trying to hurt him. Now he was with the others, and it was attacking them all.
Flo heard him, despite the angry roar of the wind. She understood his sentiment. "Flee," she said, saying the word for running away from danger.
Sam, hesitated, because that meant leaving the known path. It was always dangerous to leave the path when distant from the most familiar grounds, for only the path knew the way home. Yet that path was clearly impassable; no hope there. So, reluctantly, he hopped.
Soon the group was walking away from the cleft, deeper into the valley, though this was not a comfortable direction. There were animal paths that all of them could trace, but they led in the wrong direction. The great wide plain beyond was dangerous, especially at night, and they all feared it. Sam himself had been lucky to return from his venture onto it; there had been others who never came back. But it was not yet night, though the storm made it seem as dark; they would be able to return once it passed and the water drained.
There was a loud cracking noise and a great flash of light behind them. They all paused and turned to look. The storm was smiting the cleft!
Dirty water surged around their feet, as if it, too, was trying to escape. Then it thinned, spreading out. The storm passed, leaving bands of vapor rising into the sky,
They reversed course, walking back up the valley. But as they approached the cleft, they paused, staring with confusion and consternation. The cleft was gone! It had become a tumble of stone below a sleep cliff. There was no way they could climb up that sheer ridge.
"Doom," Sam muttered. His vision had been true.
Flo was more practical. "Around," she said, speaking a more difficult concept. When there was something in the way, people went around it. They would go around the mountain, and get home another way. Sam agreed, because he had no alternative to offer.
They started out, walking swiftly, the two of them in the lead, the lesser children following. First they had to get all the way out of the valley, because its rocky ledges were impassable throughout. That turned out to be a longer distance than it looked, because as the valley widened and the sides curved away, more cam into view. Fortunately there were good animal paths here, making rapid walking feasible.
Three of the children were trailing. Sam saw that they were the bent-knee ones. Most of them walked with straight knees, but some didn't. They never had. It didn't make much difference around the home camp, where there were always things to hold to and couldn't keep up.
Flo saw him looking, and glanced back herself. Then she looked forward. He knew what she was thinking: they had a long way to go, to get around the mountain, and if they didn't go fast enough, they could be caught out here by night. Then the leopards would come, and the big snakes, and other things they feared without knowing.
So they didn't dare go slow. The bent-knees would simply have to follow at whatever pace they could, tracking the spoor of the others. Maybe they wouldn't be too far behind when the way home was found. When night came.
When Sam next looked back, he didn't see the three laggards. That made him feel uneasy, but he didn't know what else to do but keep moving on. He could tell that Flo was similarly disturbed.
At last the valley opened out into the frighteningly broad plain of the unknown. No one foraged alone this far out, because it was too far from their safe retreat. Now they had to.
It was hot out here, with no shade. The sun was near the top of the sky, with no clouds. Sam was wet with sweat, and he saw it matting the fur of the others. His sense of doom returned; the others. His sense of in the open.
There were bushes here, rich with ripe berries, and Sam recognized several good tuber plants. Excellent foraging! But could they pause to eat? He looked at Flo, and she looked at the sky, then shrugged. She glanced back again: maybe if they remained here a while, the three lost children would catch up.
They ate the berries, which were rich and juicy. Not only did this feed them, it allowed them to rest, and to cool. Had they known how good the foraging was out here, they might have braved it before.
Flo kept looking back the way they had come. She was hoping the bent-knee children would catch up. But there was no sign of them. They had probably returned to the head of the valle...
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Book Description Tor Books, 1997. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0312863403
Book Description Tor Books, 1997. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0312863403
Book Description Tor Books. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0312863403 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW33.2055684
Book Description Tor Books, 1997. Hardcover. Condition: New. 1st - may be Reissue. Ships with Tracking Number! INTERNATIONAL WORLDWIDE Shipping available. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory # 0312863403n