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Monday 1 April 2002

Scandal Spreads:
Bones of the Earth Based on de Camp Classic?

by McClain Wahewski

The plagiarism scandal that has engulfed popular science fiction writer Michael Swanwick received fresh impetus today with allegations that Swanwick’s new novel, Bones of the Earth, contains significant similarities to L. Sprague de Camp’s classic story, “A Gun for Dinosaur.”

Both works involve a device for traveling through time, the mechanics of which are left vague. Both have contemporary humans interacting with dinosaurs. Both involve a character dying from those interactions. But the alleged borrowings go deeper than that, according to a recent unsigned editorial in Foundation.

Bones of the Earth, it is charged, usurps such terms as Mesozoic, Cenozoic, Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Pleistocene, and uintathere — all of which appear on the very first page of the de Camp classic. Oligocene, sauropod, ornithopod, Apatosaurus, duckbill, theropod, pachycephalosaur, ceratopsian, and Triceratops, which appear later, also seem to have been appropriated without significant alteration. Toothed birds feature in both works. Nor are the alleged unattributed swipes limited to eras and animals. Such flora as magnolias, ferns, sassafras, cycads, gingkoes, willows, and pines appear in both works, as do such locales as swamps, islands and foothills. Each makes a point of mentioning that grasses have not yet evolved into dominant forms. De Camp’s time machine is invented at a “big University.” The University of Maryland at College Park features prominently in Bones of the Earth.

The disturbing similarities extend into the very names of the characters. The villain of “Gun” is named Courtney James. A gossip in the novel is named James Montgomery Kavanaugh. The foolish innocent in the de Camp story is named August Holtzinger. One of the advisors thanked in Swanwick’s acknowledgments is Tom Holtz. De Camp’s narrator is named Rivers. Much of the action in Bones takes place on or near a river.

Swanwick, speaking through his lawyer, denied having read the story or, indeed, having ever heard of L. Sprague de Camp.

In the earlier scandal, Swanwick was forced to admit that he had appropriated such terms and concepts as spaceships, interstellar travel, and transcendence from earlier works by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke.

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