J. Robert King


Neanderthal’s Lament

For a hundred milennia, we have hunted here.

Bison, elk, sloth, woolly rhino–all have fallen before us.

Our spears bite from an arm’s throw away.

Nothing can survive us.

Nothing but them–these skinny, strange ones, these ones who eat bugs and eels and leaves and fish and anything they can get into their mouths. They look like us, but they do not hunt the great game. They chatter always, fritter away their time with beads and shells and epics of nothing. They only half-care about the world and more than half-care about things that aren’t even and could never be.

They do not hunt as we do.

Poor creatures.

Especially in these times.

The glaciers are retreating.

The mammoth herds are thinning.

The earth does not give up her bounty as once she did.

Only supreme hunters can survive.

Only we can kill the few mammoths that remain.

Look at these poor others, who eat their bugs and worms and nibble on tall grass and lick bark. Never did they know how to live, and surely not now– moss-eaters, coal-drawers, song-singers.

They spend days chasing down worthlessness.

We spend every hour hunting the few beasts left to us.

The world is changing. Only the greatest will survive.

I weep for these chattering folk. They talk and draw and make, but what do they kill?

How will they inherit the Earth?

August 26th, 2010
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15 Responses to “Neanderthal’s Lament”

  1. Jarrod Says:

    Thanks Rob, another good little piece of narrative – I often wonder what each would have thought as they gazed across the fields and saw the other. Would they merely consider them competition? As beasts? Or as kindred?

    This story evokes a scene around a campfire, with a proud chieftan warning his tribe against foreign ways. Or maybe it simply echoes every grandfather’s resistance to change.

    Either way, a nice little read – succinctly taking us to another time and place.

  2. Rob King Says:

    Thanks, Jarrod!

    Yes, you definitely got what I was going for–the sense of a passing generation shaking its head at the new ways, wondering how this next generation could possibly survive.

    In some ways, I think this is the reason we die. We all are products of a specific place and time, but places change and time moves on. The most efficient and effective human lifetime is an arc that rises and falls and gives way to the next arcs.

    Also, compared to Neanderthals, we are a frivolous group. I have never slain an animal that I then sat down to eat. (I hit a deer once, and have put two pets to sleep). Still, I have eaten many animals. In Neaderthal terms, I would be an utterly useless drain on the resources of the tribe.

    I hope, in human terms, that I am not.

  3. Curtis Says:

    Rob,
    NIce history. It’s always the history. Should have never studied any, read any, been exposed to any but my own. Then these days would seem, well, more exciting. With so many histories that have come and gone, empires built and dwindled, these our days seem more like a rerun. Forgive me. But a rather stale rerun even with my new iPod. I’ve never been here before but I feel like I have seen the movie.

    P.S. Pro-football players need to lay off the suds. I caught maybe five plays this last weekend for the first time in years. Comedy. Pure comedy.

  4. Rob King Says:

    Yes, we all seem to think that we have invented new sins, but history shows us how old they all are. It would be exciting to venture into lands no one has glimpsed rather than forever treading the footworn ways.

    Still, this communication revolution sweeping over us does feel all new, even though revolutions themselves are very old.

  5. Jarrod Says:

    Anecdotally, the problem with revolutions is that they are 360′ – bringing you back to the starting point!

    They say that the key to avoid history’s mistakes lies in knowing them. In this day and age, we probably know (and I use the term lightly) more about history than ever before.

    Unfortunately our learning from history has to compete with human nature, and we can be pretty willful beings at the best (and worst) of times.

    Maybe the Buddhists have it right, in both breaking the cycle (revolution?) of samsara and in breaking the ‘conditionality’ of human nature? Hard for everyone to run off and become monks, though.

  6. Curtis Says:

    Jarrod. Do you know this guy personally? Corpse-Masher of Epsilon 7. I think we have found our leader. He needs to become House Rep. from GA. Dist. 12. We need him! Can you loan him out? Dude. You are the man!

  7. Rob King Says:

    I like the idea of revolutions only bringing us back to the starting point. But perhaps this sort of revolution still accomplishes something. Perhaps it’s like a crocodile rolling over to digest. The beast spins and comes back to where it was before, but something different is going on inside.

    And the point about battling our own natures is an excellent one. Are we trying to preserve what we are or become something new? There’s plenty great about humanity already, and self-conscious attempts at transcendence have failed us in the past. But evolution seems to demand that we not cling to the past, as the Neanderthals most likely did, but plunge on toward the unknowable future, as our ancestors did.

    The unknowable future. It is, eventually, a place where I have become obsolete. Change is, in some ways, a euphemism for death. And yet, as tough as it is to admit, change is ultimately good. Death has been for us individually the Great Foe, but for us as an evolving species, it has been the Great Friend.

  8. Jarrod Says:

    Thanks Curtis, I’ll see if Mr Epsilon 7 is free.

    As always, Rob, what you say is thought provoking. If I can stretch the metaphor of a revolution as a circle a little more, perhaps it is that I am looking at it from a single perspective – it merely looks like a circle as I look down at it, but in three-dimensional space it may resemble more a spiral. Thus, as it appears as one great turn, the revolution has indeed moved things forward, like your aligator analogy.

    And I believe that in Tarot cards, the card of “Death” (often vilified as a negative card in literature) is also a representation of change – being the death of old ways, and also the birth of new ways, which I think further supports your last paragraph.

    I have to admit that I have never considered Death as either a Great Foe or a Great Friend – I’ve merely seen it as a transformative process (perhaps due in large part to my charmed life). But change, as you allude to, is a Great Inevitability (I just felt like using capitals), and certianly those species who are capable of embracing it seem to flourish the most.

    Incidentally, I see that a villain you brought vividly to life during the Invasion Cycle of Magic the Gathering (and an Agent of Death and Change, I might add), will be making a comeback in the next cycle – the Phyrexians. I look forward to their return – if you don’t mind me asking, are you involved in their resurgence?

  9. Rob King Says:

    Wow! I wish I were involved in the new cycle, the Phyrexians–especially since I got to establish their origin story in The Thran. But, hey, life (and death) move on. I hope the next cycle is awesome.

    I love your connection to the Tarot cards, the idea that Death is in fact Change–that Shiva is both the destroyer and the recreator. You’re right. Death is an end only for those who don’t make it to the next form (Neanderthals). It is a beginning for those who do.

    And, in that sense, I am trying to make it to the next form, to see what a novelist evolves into in the post-novel age.

  10. Jarrod Says:

    Do you think that the post-novel age has arrived already? I know the world is slowly changing with eBooks (and madly trying to develop practical publisher/distributor business models), but novels (and by extension, novelists) are no where near extinct yet! I’m definitely not the only one who still enjoys reading a physical copy.

  11. Rob King Says:

    I hope the post-novel age hasn’t arrived yet, but as a novelist, I’m prone to fits of paranoia about it.

    I do believe that the ways people read are changing dramatically, and that novelists need to explore new ways to tell stories. Technology has always affected the way stories were sold. Dickens’ serializations were targetted at a new type of reader–the train commuter–and he made millions off them. One of us clever folks needs to find a modern analogue of these serializations, packaged for the telecommuter.

  12. Curtis Says:

    Wandering Back through. I guess it’s best to put this under your last post.
    I snatched this from the Futurist
    http://www.wfs.org/Forecasts_From_The_Futurist_Magazine

    They threw in a Bonus lists of futures” dating back”, gotta love’em. Anyway.
    * Book publishers may need to hire movie directors. Books are finally going multimedia and digital, and publishers are offering more content online for free. Textbooks will bring together a wide variety of talents to create a multimedia “book.” The shift from print to multimedia means that the writers of the future will work with Web designers, software writers, and other professionals to create products. The next step for publishers will be involving the readers in the publishing process, using them to set prices and give input on what to publish. -Patrick Tucker, “The 21st-Century Writer,” July-Aug 2008, p. 25

  13. Rob King Says:

    Great quotation, Curtis! I’m living this reality. My day-job is at a publishing house that is becoming increasingly more connected into all varieties of media. In fact, the book I’m currently working on has sections about audio-visual projects such as films and built projects such as robots. We plan to launch a Web site, also, that will probably be the main focus for teachers and students, with the book itself being just one feature of an overall program. It’s a strange, new, wonderful world.

  14. Curtis Says:

    I picked up a copy of The Times Compact History of the World ( Times Books is an imprint of HarperCollins) I wanted a quick and handy ref. I could use to help see it all at a glimpse.

    What I got for $13.00 was exactly what the title advertised. Plus each section has at least one academic quality web link with it that should keep a person busy for the rest of their lives.

    Basically, the book is an introduction and guide to the latest information concerning the subject at hand. This will only get better.

  15. Rob King Says:

    Nice! When I was in college, we read “A Brief History of the Western World.” It was about 800 pages and did not seem brief to a college freshman, but when I think about covering all of western civilization, I guess that is brief.

    Now I hear of “The Times Compact History of the World” for $13. What scholar pre-millenium would ever have guessed one could get the “History of Everything” for $13? We live in amazing times.

    Of course, the true “History of Everything” is now available via Google. Google is the creepy cybertronic reference librarian who not only knows every book and periodical ever published but also has a direct line to the mind of God.

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