The West of Eden Trilogy Critical Essays

Harry Harrison


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The West of Eden trilogy is an imaginative reworking of the cave-man-and-dinosaur epics once common in pulp fiction and then later in “B” science-fiction films such as One Million Years B.C. (1966). Set on an alternate Earth, these novels outdistance such nonsensical fare by featuring not anachronistic cavepeople battling big lizards but realistically depicted Neolithic humans competing with an intelligent saurian species. The books diverge also from the best-known works of Harry Harrison, for example the Stainless Steel Rat series (beginning with The Stainless Steel Rat, 1961), containing humorous escapades of a roguish hero, and Make Room! Make Room! (1966), the dystopic novel about overpopulation that was filmed as Soylent Green (1973). The Eden books are high adventure, with characters who explore continents and found cities. Although dystopic elements occur in depictions of Yilanè society, admirable aspects of Yilanè culture are presented as well, including their love of language and their concern for ecology. All three volumes received widespread acclamation from critics, including enthusiastic reviews in mainstream periodicals.

As is typical in works about parallel realities, resonances and allusions from the “real” Earth and its legends, history, and lore recur throughout the series. Kerrick is very much his Earth’s Moses figure, a hero brought as a slave into an alien culture who then rises within that culture only to reclaim his true identity and to spearhead a rebellion among his original people. The West of Eden trilogy also reinvents the history of European exploration and colonization of the “New World,” chronicling as it does the progress of a technologically advanced people, the Yilanè, as they attempt to populate and dominate the continents of North and South America, with little regard for the peoples already living there.

Harrison relates this period of domination and attempted conquest with the wealth of detail...

(The entire section is 820 words.)