"An extraordinary and vivid interpretation of our planet’s history."
Otherlands succeeds in covering millions of years of paleobiological history and life on earth in a way that is more accessible and enlightening than any previous written attempt to do this that I can think of. That is a remarkable achievement when you consider that if the entire 4.5 billion years of our geological history were condensed into just one hour, then human history would only last two thousandths of a second.
Halliday’s approach is to drop in on specific moments in time on this planet and then create a reconstruction of what that would have looked like.
Each reproduction is detailed, beautifully imagined and vividly portrayed by this scientist with an extraordinary writing talent.
There are sixteen chapters, starting with the Northern Hemisphere 20,000 years ago and concluding with Ediacaran Earth 550 million years ago. The effect of this approach is to explain the title of the book - you really do feel as though you have travelled through time to other lands and that you are witnessing our deepest origins.
I found myself thinking of the parallel worlds of Philip Pullman, or even the planets visited by Captain Kirk - often they would be familiar but unrecognisable, our memory scrambled and repurposed in a way that makes some sort of sense, like a weird dream. The moon may be brighter, the penguins may be larger, there are camels in what is now Alaska, and so on.
Otherlands is an incredible achievement of the imagination, anchored in scientific fact and travelling through time.