Profile: Science Fiction, Time Travel
The Dechronization of Sam Magruder is a strange little novella that is equal parts time travel story, homage to H.G. Wells and paleontological argument. The author, George Gaylord Simpson, was one of the most influential and prolific evolutionists and paleontologists of the 20th century, if not all time. More curiously, he wasn’t a fiction writer. Of the 15 books he wrote or contributed to, only the posthumously published Dechronization approached the genre of science fiction and even then from the perspective of an academic.
Before I get into the review itself, I would like to mention that I would be much less conversant on the matter of 1940s paleontology were it not for the substantial introduction by Arthur C. Clarke included in my slim paperback edition. Clarke discusses the sometimes unpopular opinions of Simpson that were eventually borne out by new discoveries, but also reminds the reader that this book was being written in the mid-1900s and some of what we knew then has since been proven wrong. Most importantly, he emphasizes the science fiction nature of the novella, drawing the attention back to the setting which makes some unusual assumptions about the shape of the future that might not be so far off reality.