Fossil Hunter is a novel written by acclaimed Canadian science fiction author, Robert J. Sawyer. It is the sequel to Far-Seer and is the second book of the Quintaglio Ascension Trilogy. The book depicts an Earth-like world on a moon which orbits a gas giant, inhabited by a species of highly evolved, sentient Tyrannosaurs called Quintaglios, among various other creatures from the late cretaceous period, imported to this moon by aliens 65 million years prior to the story. Originally published in 1993 by Ace Science Fiction, it won the Homer award for "Best Novel" during its initial release date. It was reissued in 2005 by Tor Books.
The story takes place roughly sixteen years after the events of Far-Seer. In lieu of Afsan's discovery of the Quintaglio's real place in the universe, the Larskian faith has been abolished and worship of the Original Five hunters reinstated. Dybo is now the Emperor, with Afsan as his court astrologer, and Novato has been put in charge of the Quintaglio Exodus; a project meant to help the Quintaglios escape from their doomed world before it breaks apart. Toroca, son of Afsan and Novato, is now head of the Geological Survey of Land, meant to take a global inventory of the resources available for the Exodus project.
While undertaking the Geological Survey, Toroca finds a mysterious blue artifact, made of a seemingly indestructible material even harder than diamond. It appears to be mechanical, with moving parts, but having been found in some of the oldest rocks, is too old to have been manufactured by Quintaglios. He also begins to take notice of clues which cast into doubt his belief in the origin of the world as set forth in the book of Lubal. The world appears to be much older than five thousand kilodays, due to the rate of erosion being too slow, and during an expedition to the South Pole, he finds that it is inhabited entirely by many unique types of Wingfingers. Toroca hypothesises that they evolved from a common wingfinger ancestor.
Meanwhile, Dybo's rule has been challenged by Rodlox, the governor of the province Edz'Toolar. As Afsan had previously suspected in Far-Seer, Rodlox claims that the children of the previous Empress were exempted from the culling of the Bloodpriests, with the weakest child being made the future Emperor (as opposed to the strongest as tradition dictates) and the rest being sent away so that the royal family could be more easily manipulated. Rodlox claims that he is Dybo's brother, and that he was the strongest child and thus the rightful emperor. The Imperial Bloodpriest goes missing shortly after, his absence bolstering Rodlox's conspiracy theory. Much political turmoil follows; all across the land, Bloodpriests are driven out and sometimes killed. With no means of birth control, the Quintaglio population begins to swell eightfold as a result. With the Quintaglios' natural predisposition towards territorial aggression, it is only a matter of time before civil war erupts.
Dybo consults Afsan, his most trusted advisor, to come up with a solution for the problem. If Rodlox were to become the new Emperor, he would cancel the Exodus and doom the Quintaglios to extinction- Dybo must win Rodlox's challenge. Rather than face him in single combat, as Dybo would most certainly lose to Rodlox, Afsan suggests that all eight of the Empress' children participate in a replay of the culling, against a scaled up Bloodpriest: a Blackdeath. Such a scenario would give Dybo a one-in-eight chance of victory.
As Afsan helps Dybo prepare for his battle against the Blackdeath, he finds out that one of his children has been murdered, her throat slashed open by a piece of broken mirror. Afsan undertakes an investigation to try to find her killer. Dybo begins to train for his battle against the Blackdeath. Toroca finds himself increasingly attracted to Babnol, a member of the Geological survey team. Babnol in turn worries about Toroca's obsession with the blue artifact, and she sneaks into his cabin, steals it, and dumps it overboard. The Geological Survey team must now head back to where the original artifact was discovered, to try to find another one.
Meanwhile, back on land, the congestion has gotten unbearable. With the Bloodpriests in dispute, seven out of every eight Quintaglio hatchlings have not been culled, and the population has swelled. Tensions are boiling, and the situation explodes when mass Dagamant (a Quintaglio bloodlust fueled by territorial aggression) occurs. Many Quintaglios are killed in the ensuing battle before the situation is defused. It becomes apparent that this will happen again and again until the Bloodpriests are reinstated.
The Geological Survey team returns to the coast of Fra'Toolar, where the original artifact was found, to search for another. To speed up the process, they resort to blasting the cliffs, surmising that the mysterious blue material will not be damaged by the explosions. Their blasting exposes an enormous object made of the blue material, and after finding a mysterious double door, explore the inside. Within, they find the mummified remains of an extraterrestrial, and various creatures that are extinct on the Quintaglio's world, among them, birds.
Another of Afsan's children has been murdered. Suspicion falls upon another of Afsan's children, Drawtood. Afsan confronts Drawtood, who confesses to his crime. Suffering from paranoia, Drawtood had intended to murder all of his siblings, out of fear that they were going to come after him. Rather than face the consequences of his actions, Drawtood commits suicide, and drinks a vial of poison.
Soon, it is time for the battle against the Blackdeath. After being starved for several days, the Tyrannosaur is released into an arena, where it proceeds to devour each of the Royal siblings one by one. Rodlox doesn't go down without a fight, and indeed, almost defeats the Blackdeath by utilising his superior agility to disorient it. It topples over and he leaps on its back to deliver the finishing bite; however, he is killed when the Blackdeath suddenly rises to its feet and somersaults forward, crushing him with its massive bulk. Dybo has studied natural Blackdeath behavior prior to the battle, and has come up with a strategy. He positions himself carefully, with the sun setting behind him. As the Blackdeath prepares to attack, Dybo bites off its own arms, reducing them to stumps, and mimics the dinosaur's roar. In profile, Dybo resembles a juvenile T. Rex, and the Blackdeath retreats, refusing to accept a challenge from what it perceives as a lesser male. Dybo is declared the winner, and has earned the right to rule.
In the aftermath of the battle, Dybo sets about cleaning up the mess the challenge has caused. The Bloodpriests are reinstated. The Imperial Bloodpriest is found, but he has been injured; before he dies, he reveals that Dybo was in fact the weakest of the Imperial hatchlings; however, the switch was not pulled as an attempt to control the Royal family. It is revealed that because the Bloodpriests had been saving only the strongest offspring, that the Quintaglios had become too aggressive; the Bloodpriests were performing a breeding experiment with the Royal family, to try to usher in a less violent generation.
With the Imperial Bloodpriest now dead, he needs a replacement; Afsan suggests that Toroca be appointed as his replacement. With Toroca's theory of evolution, Afsan presumes that he would be the best person for the job. Dybo concurs, and assigns him to the task.
Meanwhile, Wab-Novato has finished construction on a prototype glider, based on bird remains recovered from the giant blue structure. The test flight of the machine is a success; the Quintaglios have taken their first step towards flight.
Studies on the giant blue artifact have made it apparent that is an alien starship, and that these beings brought dinosaurs and other creatures to this world from another, millions of years ago; explaining why species in the Quintaglios' fossil record appear suddenly rather than gradually. The book ends with Dybo declaring that the Quintaglios are not merely going to the stars; they are going home.
Musings of The Watcher
Also complementing the main plot are the "Musings of the Watcher", interspersed through the book and told in flashback from the first person perspective of a god-like entity whose consciousness has survived from the previous cycle of creation.
The Watcher was originally an extraterrestrial being that existed in the universe prior to the birth of the current one. Its consciousness survived into the current universe, which has different physical laws that place harsher constrictions on the ability for life to flourish. Life originated in this universe on "The crucible"; The Watcher, knowing that only a few species would survive on this world, transported some creatures to other worlds using dark matter funnels, to try to seed as much life throughout the universe as possible.
Millions of years later, a sentient species called the Jijaki evolved from a transplanted population of Opabinia. The Watcher learned their language by observing broadcasts of Kijititatak Gikta, an educational animated program for Jijaki children, and established contact by writing "Howdy boys and girls and little neuters!" in the sky, (this being the catch phrase of Tilk, the cartoon's protagonist.) A religion worshipping The Watcher quickly arose.
Meanwhile, on the Crucible, dinosaurs and mammals had long been evolving alongside one another. Both showed potential for evolving into sentient races, but only one could possibly arise on this world, due to the dinosaurs' ecological stranglehold on the planet. The Watcher sent his Jijaki, in spacecraft made from the blue material, to gather life forms from earth (sans mammals) to populate another world set aside for them. Introducing these dinosaurs to a moon orbiting a gas giant, The Watcher flung a meteorite at The Crucible, wiping out the remaining dinosaurs so that the mammals could inherit the earth.
In order to nudge the evolution of the dinosaurs towards intelligence, The Watcher and the Jijaki chose to resort to genetic engineering. The Jijaki wished to use Troodon as the base, but The Watcher saw more potential in the Tyrannosaurs due to their long and successful history as a group. The only problem was that Tyrannosaur arms were far too reduced. The Jijaki modified the genetic code of a sample of Nanotyrannus to bring back the five ancestral digits buried in their junk DNA. With more capable forelimbs and enough time, Nanotyrannus eventually evolved into the Quintaglios.
Meanwhile, on the Jijaki homeworld, nuclear war broke out, wiping out all Jijaki except for those on the Space Arks. The last Ark crashed on the Quintaglio homeworld, rendering the species extinct, and The Watcher with no means to seed further life throughout the universe. With the Quintaglios' moon orbit spiraling in towards the Gas Giant, The Watcher can do nothing except wait and hope the Quintaglios figure out their perilous situation before it's too late.
Just as Far-Seer explored the intersection of science and religion, Fossil Hunter does as well, with its protagonist, Toroca, functioning as the Quintaglios' version of Charles Darwin. His discovery of unique Pterosaur species at the South Pole parallels the exotic flora and fauna Darwin encountered on the Galapagos Islands, and Toroca likewise comes up with a theory of Natural Selection to explain their specialised features. However, Robert J. Sawyer alters the situation for the Quintaglios slightly by making it appear as if their fossil record supports Creationism, due to the transplant of life from Earth millions of years earlier.
Compared to Far-Seer, however, the science vs. religion angle has been downplayed slightly, and rather than following a single, linear narrative as the previous book did, Fossil Hunter has several plot threads which tie into and complement one another. Robert J. Sawyer, a self-professed murder/mystery fiction fan, wrote a murder/mystery plot line into Fossil Hunter.
Literary significance and criticism
Fossil Hunter was met with similar critical acclaim as Far-Seer, with the Science Fiction Chronicle calling it "every bit as good as its excellent precessor." Again, reviewers praised the characterisation, worldbuilding, and its approach on the issue of science vs religion.