I just stumbled upon this well-asked and received question about the series of novels of which The Clan of the Cave Bear is the first book. While certainly fictional, and predicated upon imaginative vision of prehistory, what makes this book and series on-topic for SFF:SE?

Contrast with Harrison's West of Eden (an alternate history involving a sentient dinosaur-descended civilization), or the Saga of the Pliocene Exile (a far future/far past science fantasy series).

Should the linked question have been voted closed as off-topic? Why or why not?

  • 1
    I don’t know much about the work and haven’t checked the description. However, Goodreads marks it as fantasy and that’s usually accurate. Also this is likely “alternate history” so probably on topic there.
    – TheLethalCarrot Mod
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 22:32
  • 1
    I think as a Story-ID, it's probably close enough that we don't need to close the question (q.v. shampoo commercials), but I think we'd need to look quite hard at any subsequent questions about the series itself.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 23:15
  • @TheLethalCarrot It does not quite strike me as an alternate history, because there is no specific factual historical record from which it presents an alternative unfolding of history. I think "speculative prehistory" or the "prehistorical fiction" of Valorum's answer fairly nails it for me. (Also: thank you for correcting my tags. :)
    – Lexible
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 0:02

3 Answers 3


There's a couple of questions here. We'll unpack them one at a time.

Should this particular Story-ID question be closed?

I'm going to say no. The book series is certainly arguably on-topic (see below) which to my mind is sufficient to keep the question alive. It's a well received question and I can't see that there would be any benefit to removing it at this point.

Should The Clan of the Cave Bear (and related works) be considered on-topic for future questions?

That would be a fairly firm 'no'. The book series is largely a work of historical fiction although, as Auel herself notes in various interviews, that while the story could be considered fantasy, or even science fiction, by its setting (note the total absence of any other fantastical elements), she would ideally prefer that it be categorised as a form of historical fiction which she coins 'prehistorical fiction', although if offered the forced choice, she'd probably push toward science fiction rather than fantasy because her work is based on scientific research.

That being said, as mentioned in Buzz's answer, in the first couple of books there was some early-installment weirdness involving the flatheads possessing groupthink telepathy as well as an incident where the main character mentally time travels to the 20th century. Although these would certainly be classed as on-topic incidents, they were retconned out of future books and never mentioned again. One or two very mild sci-fi elements in a book series spanning more than 17,000 pages of text would, to my mind, fall under our existing policy (Are works that aren't SF per se, but have occasional SFnal elements on-topic?), in the sense that questions about those elements would be on-topic, but questions about the book series in general wouldn't.

Q9: Do you see your work as Fantasy or something else?

A9: Though my books are written from a historical perspective, I have gone so far back that I am in the realm of prehistorical speculation rather than simple historical fact to weave my stories around. I think of my books as mainstream and that's were most people who read them look for them in book stores. I sometimes call them prehistoric fiction, but there is no category called "Prehistoric Fiction" in most stores. I have been a reader of Science Fiction and Fantasy for a long time, since I was 11 or 12 I think, so I understand it and I'm not at all surprised that readers of the genre might enjoy my books.

Of the two, I would think of my work as closer to Science Fiction than Fantasy. Science Fiction is not just about the future of space ships travelling to other planets, it is fiction based on science and I am using science as my basis for my fiction, but it's the science of prehistory - palaeontology and archaeology - rather than astronomy or physics. Science Fiction also involves logical speculation, and since I have had to speculate a great deal to create my prehistoric world and the characters that inhabit it, that's another reason I would end to put it in SF if I had to pick one. I have heard Science Fiction and Fantasy referred to as the fiction of ideas, and I like that definition, but it's the mainstream public that chooses my books for the most part.


Similarly, the pressers and blurbs for the films and TV shows spawned from her works are effusive in their praise of the precision of her research. This isn't an alternative world or a parallel universe, it's a fictionalised version of our world.

(May 27, 2010—New York, NY) Jean M. Auel, whose novels about prehistoric life have won acclaim for their inspired storytelling, meticulous attention to detail, and historic accuracy, has written the highly anticipated sixth and final book in the mega-bestselling Earth’s Children® series.


  • 1
    Note the difference between this and something like One Million B.C where you have dinosaurs co-existing with humans. Auel's goal was historical accuracy and filling in the gaps with her own imaginings.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 23:08
  • Thank you! I really appreciate the nuance and kind spiritedness in your response.
    – Lexible
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 0:00
  • 1
    You say no, but then the quote from the author makes it seem like yes? I would also argue "meticulous attention to detail, and historic accuracy" sounds like "hard-scifi" but instead of the future it is the past and instead of "physics" it is "historic".
    – Skooba
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 13:00

I was initially unsure whether the Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children novels would qualify as fantasy or alternate history when I answered the question. It looks like there is currently only one question about the series on the main site, and the Clan of the Cave Bear has only been suggested (incorrectly) once before as answer to a question. The series is mostly a speculative historical narrative taking place in the upper paleolithic. Some might feel that the fact that the heroine, Ayla, has a such a strong influence on the future history of humanity (inventing several important early technologies and playing a key role in horse domestication, for example) makes the series alternate history, which we generally take to be on topic. However, at the time depth involved I think this is pretty debatable.

However, I do feel that the series is on topic for a Science Fiction & Fantasy question. The reason is that novels do contain a few fantastical elements. Most importantly, the nonverbal Neanderthals of the the eponymous Clan have telepathic abilities. This plays a minor but significant role in the first books and is mentioned a number of other times later in the series, even after Ayla parts ways with the Neanderthals.

(I also just remembered that the MIT Science Fiction Society, which tries to obtain copies of every English-language science fiction or fantasy novel published, eventually decided that, after the third or fourth book, that they were were not going to buy the later books in the Earth's Children, having ruled that they were no longer part of the SF&F genre.)

  • 1
    Oh! I did not know about the telepathy, TY. (I did not read the series in question, and my understandings are from various secondhand sources). At the same time, "speculative prehistory" or "prehistoric fiction" seems hard to fit into the "alternate history" box for me, as by definition it does not depart from established historical narrative, but rather 'fills in the blanks'.
    – Lexible
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 5:03
  • Was it telepathy though? I thought it was some 'racial memory' nonsense
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 6:31
  • 1
    @Valorum I interpreted it as telepathy, although "racial memory" was certainly tied into it somehow. In any case, it was thoroughly fictional.
    – Buzz
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 6:32
  • See my edit. This seems to fall under the heading of scifi.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/337/…
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 8:06

I always felt that the implication that non-sapien hominids, such as Neanderthal, Erectus, etc..., had genetic memory as opposed to modern humans who instead evolved greater cognitive skill to replace that, placed that novel squarely in the realm of science fiction, or atleast speculative fiction based on forensic anthropology. This was a crucial, perhaps the most crucial, element of the story. The study of pre-history is science, and at times a rather remarkable one.

While I laud Auel's effort at trying to be 'accurate', the fact is that there is a huge amount of inference based on scientific and historical research. No matter how you wish to fill in those blanks, there still many blanks to be filled in, and that's where writers like them come in, along with researchers and scientists.

  • There are certainly elements of the first two books that are mildly sci-fi. But I didn't feel that they were a major feature in books that were 600+ pages each.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 9:06
  • I'm not sure that I would classify the proposal that lineages of humanity had genetic memory as mildly sci-fi! And that was clearly a cornerstone feature of the story. Almost every important turn in the story hinges upon that element.
    – ouflak
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 9:17
  • @outflak - I'll happily admit that it's been some years since I read the books. The telepathy was such an insignificant feature that I'd completely forgotten it, along with the weird 'mental time travel to the 20th Century' thing that the main character does.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 9:20
  • @Valorum, Honestly it's been a long while for me with the book. Haven't even seen the movie in a while. I may thumb through it again, just to make sure I'm not babbling. But the story is heavily based on scientific elements of evolutionary biology and forensic anthropology, not to mention speculative genetics. I never considered the time elements as part of the 'science' part of the story. But that's just me. Guess I can see alternative timeline argument, but it seems a stretch.
    – ouflak
    Commented Jun 15, 2021 at 9:23

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .