In many ways, this world is not much different than the world we live in now, except for the concept that God's existence is proven by science. This ideology opens the doors for more questions. Is there more than one God? Did God create more than one type of humanoid, with humans being made in His perfect image, but at one point in the earth's 5800 years of existence, did several variations of humanoids exist? Now, on top of all this, what if humans started playing God and had the ability to cross species by manipulating DNA? This is the world created by Ted Kosmatka and sets the stage for our hero Paul Carlson, a young yet brilliant scientist who finds himself caught in the web of a madman.
While it would have been easy for Ted Kosmatka to hit his audience over the head with the religious aspects of the book, he holds back and lets those ideas float in the background. While the main characters do believe in God, for God is a proven entity, it's no longer a question of if He exists, but what did He (or Them) create during the history of the Earth. The characters are well thought out and established. Paul, the hero, is a fully fleshed out character. You see Paul as a child and discover who he is, what motivates him and how his father influences his life. It is up to Paul and his colleagues to find buried bones, examine them, and determine their species. For there are several found types of humans, each that branch off the main line, but there is only one Human species. To try and understand this, think in terms of DNA. It is well established that the DNA structure between humans and apes are extremely similar with only a few differences that separates ape from man. It is with this same thought that several different types of humanoids existed, each with very similar DNA, but not exactly the same DNA. Think of it this way, Neanderthals were not humans, but humanoids. Human kind is not a descendant of Neanderthals, but a different species altogether.
A novel based on this premise itself could be a very interesting read. But Kosmatka doesn't stop there. He presents several other questions and theories, however briefly, throughout the book. Such as, what if there was more than one Adam? What if there is more than one God and the two Gods had a contest to see who could create the more dominate human species? What if those two Adams were pitted against each other for survival? Ultimately, one of those Adams would have won out, and history is written by the victor. But what if the other Adam's bones were discovered and tested? What if the public discovered that God didn't create humans in His perfect image but that there were several different versions of humans? Scientific data like that could shake the core of the established religions. A discovery like that would be hidden, squashed and destroyed by those who had the most to lose.
The book also covers the idea of what if a madman decided to start crossing species. Not just apes and humans, but different human species, some of which were very ape-like. What if these different cross species proved to be extremely violent, incredibly strong, and only slightly controllable? These monstrosities and the lab in which they were created help set the stage for a satisfying conclusion to a book that weaves a complex tale of science, religion and humanity.
Prophet of Bones is an ambitious book and covers many ideas. At times, I wished certain points were expanded upon, and at times I wondered if the author stretched the book a bit too far by introducing too many different plot points, but in the end all of the different moving parts fit together nicely. Sure, there are still unanswered questions in the end, mostly about theories and ideas that are introduced but never fully covered, but to do so, this book might have become unwieldy in size. Rather, the author did a good job of keeping the story on pace and well balanced. Prophet of Bones is available for order as both a hardcover book and for Kindle. It is a recommended read for those who like to explore alternate realities and what-if scenarios.
Here's a link to view or download a PDF excerpt from the book. Below is an interview with the author. I will offer a contest to win a copy of the book just as soon as I have them available. Stay tuned.
Q&A with Ted Kosmatka, author of Prophet of Bones
Q. You are well known in the science-fiction and fantasy genres for your highly praised short stories and first novel, The Games. What inspired you to write Prophet of Bones—a thriller?
A. The novel was actually inspired by a conversation I had with a co-worker about young-earth creationism. In 2005 the Kansas Board of Education held a series of hearings in an effort to introduce intelligent design into science classes in public schools. Statistics show that there are a huge number of people who believe evolution to be false, and the reality is that some of those people are in charge of educational policies. I think I imagined the novel as a way of granting young-earth creationists their argument. Here is a universe where the earth truly is young—provably, verifiably, by carbon 14 dating. But nothing else is different. The fossil record of the novel is identical to our fossil record, only now these bones must be faced within the context of a creationist world. It’s another window into the argument, and presents a case, I think, that a young earth would present a far more disturbing picture than the world we actually inhabit.
Q. Prophet of Bones is an extension of your widely acclaimed short story “The Prophet of Flores,” which has been printed in several year’s best science-fiction and fantasy collections and translated into several languages. Why do you think it struck such a chord with this audience? What was the motivation for expanding the story?
A. I honestly try not to think too much about what an audience might do with a story I write. It’s nice when a story gets good reviews or a positive response, sure, but the best writing always comes from a place of humility, and the last thing you want to ask yourself while writing is, Will people like this? I’m very much from the story-belongs-to-the-reader camp. It's totally up to the audience how to interpret a story, and the writer doesn't have any control over that. My main motivation for going back and expanding from the original premise was that I wanted to know what happened next. My mind kept returning to it again and again, and at some point I realized that I had a lot more I wanted to explore.
Q. How did you prepare to write Prophet of Bones? What kind of research was involved?
A. I think my whole life was a kind of research for this book. I studied biology in college and have always read everything I could get my hands on—from scientific journals to scholarly tomes on human variation. I went to Catholic school growing up, but at the same time I was always very interested in science and evolution and genetics, so I had these two very powerful and contradictory dogmas competing for my attention and loyalty—or at least that’s how I felt at the time. I’m much less conflicted about it now, but I suppose it made an impact on me. Science and religion both seek the answer to similar queries: Why are we here? How did we get here? And these are questions I was particularly interested in for some reason. I was bombarded with these two very different perspectives, and most of my early experiences as a child trying to understand my place in the world were colored by the tension between these different worldviews.
Q. The book is grounded, in part, by real science. Can you share some of the most important scientific foundations that were critical to your research?
A. Well, the most important bit of science critical to the story, of course, was the discovery of those strange fossils on the island of Flores. Without that discovery, I doubt I would have had a way to tell this kind of story. The science of genetics also plays an important part in the novel. As much as possible I tried to use real science in the story, though truthfully the genomics revolution we’re undergoing right now reads a lot like science fiction. Many of the great anthropological questions of my childhood are now being answered in no uncertain terms by genetics. It’s absolutely astounding what we’re able to learn from just a small bit of DNA.
Q. In 2003, Mike Morwood actually discovered a human-like species known as “the Hobbit” on the island of Flores. This find plays a key role in the plot of Prophet of Bones, which is set in an alternate world where Darwin is discredited and the earth is known to be only 5,800 years old. Why did you choose write the tale as a twist on the truth?
A. Twists on the truth always make the best stories, I think. I’ve always been drawn to intractable scientific arguments, and at the time when I first came up with the idea for the book, there was a lot of fighting about what this particular fossil might mean. There was one camp that felt the fossil was just a pathological human and another camp that felt it was something far different. To some extent, I think, that argument is still going on, though evidence has certainly mounted in favor of one particular interpretation. I use a lot of my stories as a way for me to think about problems I’m interested in; and to a lot of people in anthropology, these fossils present themselves as one of the most unexpected and fascinating problems to have burst on the scene in a very long time. Also, as an outlier in the cannon of archaeological finds, the Flores fossils were a great tool for investigating what it truly means to be human.
Q. Your résumé includes a wide array of jobs: fast-food worker, housepainter, security guard, college tutor, zookeeper, laboratory analyst, endangered-species researcher, stage actor, and video-game writer. How did working in such varied environments help you write this novel?
A. I think for a writer, anything that broadens your experience can only be a good thing if your goal is to understand the world. Doing a bunch of different jobs over the years is certainly one way to gain a lot of different experiences. (It also could mean you’re just not very good at anything, so it is by no means always a mark of distinction.) I’ve always been experience-hungry, so that might have played some part in my work history, though it’s hard to say. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to work in the fields I’ve been interested in. This novel probably draws most directly from my experience working in a research lab, and possibly a bit from my time as a zookeeper. They say that you should write what you know, so it was nice to have actually worked in the kinds of places I’m writing about.
Q. You currently work as a writer at Valve, which is home to some of the world's most popular video games, including Half-Life, Portal, Dota 2, Left 4 Dead and Counter-Strike. How is writing for a digital medium different than writing for a printed medium?
A. Writing for a digital medium above all else requires flexibility. The job can change a lot from week to week, depending on what you're working on. You get pulled in new directions all the time. In writing print fiction, you are the master of everything that happens in your story, but in writing for video games, you are a part of this large collaborative process. You have lots of really smart people to lean on and bounce ideas off of, which is awesome, and the process is in some ways very democratic. Your ideas have to win people over. The best ideas tend to win out in the long run, and then you go out as a team and institute those ideas.
Q. The main character in Prophet of Bones, Paul Carlsson, is a scientist. You studied biology at Indiana University and went on to work as a lab technician. You also bred mice in your basement as a young boy, something Paul does in the book. How did your own life inspire Paul’s character?
A. I think I’m very much like Paul in a lot of ways. We’re interested in the same questions, and driven by many of the same motivations. I suppose we have a lot of the same fears and insecurities. But for him, it is all experienced through the lens of life lived in a creationist universe, whereas I live in one more consistent with evolution. So while we’re interested in the same questions, the answers will be very different.
Q. You already have another book in the works. Can you give us any hints as to what it’s about?
A. Well, I haven’t pinned down a title yet, but the book will be a continuation of my early novelette “Divining Light,” which was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2010. It’s another lab-opera, and I’m beginning to sense a trend in my fiction. Stephen King writes about writers in trouble, and John Grisham writes about lawyers in trouble. I seem to write about scientists in trouble. So this will be my third novel centered on laboratories. And again, it’s me being drawn to another intractable scientific problem, in this case, the famous two-slit experiment. It’s a story about quantum mechanics, and in it, a researcher discovers that reality is not exactly what it seems to be. Life hangs in the balance.