Large, well-researched book by Richard Dawkins about evolution, organized (he says) by the conceit of "The Canterbury Tales", that is, a "pilgrimage" from the present day and state of humanity back to the Place Where Life Began, through 29 "rondezvous" with "concestors" who tell "tales" about how they live/function. It is simply a breathtaking journey, from the familiar territory of farmers, Cro-Magnons, and great apes to the wildest shores of fungi, slime molds, and beyond.
My difficulty is not with his scholarship, nor his ability to organize data. The problem is that, given the idea, he never quite runs with it: he claims he "won't be whimsical" and can't do it, yet, every so often, the "voices" break through: the duck-billed platypus and the star-nosed mole chat about sensory systems, and the concluding speech (by TAQ) is simply mind-blowing. Yet, it deserves someone with the sheer gall of Hendrik Willem van Loon or Olivia Judson to anthromorphicize, to get wacky, and to fall flat on their face now and then. Simply because I cannot keep the frame story out of my head and don't have the book on loan long enough to do it justice, here's how I would do it:
It was a clear night, full of stars. Lying here in the house that used to be my grandmother's, and is now mine, I'd been perturbed. I'd always thought I'd have children, a husband, and yet...it had always eluded me. Now, all I had was a neutered cat, and my own insecurities. Suddenly, he jumped on the coverlet, and nudged me. "How are you, old fellow." I said.
His eyes are green, and intelligent.
Get up. It's time. Follow me.
He'd not been well. He was fourteen. I was (cautiously) alarmed. "Follow you where?"
Follow me. It's time.
and, after a pause
I love you, my old lady. Come.
I go downstairs, and there's a Presence on the lawn, holding a staff. A cadeusis, in fact, with a double helix
subbing for snakes. He waves it. Cat and I can talk (he has a voice similar to the non-Honeymooners persona of Jackie Gleason
--tough, but intelligent). We get the assignment, a few necessities, and hey, presto, we're out on the road, a spinster and her cat, armed with a staff, a cloak, a mountain bike, and magick panniers of useful stuff that also produces food (I see something like the "grails" from Riverworld
). We meet all kinds of creatures, travel back billions of years, discuss the thornier parts of interspecies relationships (OK, why
do you keep rubbing my head and acting so nice when you aren't my mother and don't want to fuck?) and (at last) come to a meeting point with as much mysticism and SFX that a cable-channel evangelist can muster. After hearing how all so-called "higher" organisms are actually sophisticated colonies of bacteria, and of the inevitabilities of life, Cat dies.
But not all is lost. The Hooded Figure reappears, and reminds me that it now is "a new day of creation", where genetic material beginning to be at human command. He waves his staff over the dead-as-Cat-live-as-bacteria-colony cat, and I fall a-swooning back in my bed.
Morning. I awake, and, remembering my dream, call for my cat. He's not there. Perturbed, I go down for breakfast, and hear a scratching at the door.
There's a kitten standing there, with a marked resemblance to Cat.
Hello. I don't know you. You're so very nice....Let me in?...I smell food...
I let him in. Life goes on.
At least that's how I would see it...you might think otherwise.