KU professor hopes to ‘shake some people up’ with novel that tells ancient story

Jerry Dobson’s novel “The Waters of Chaos” took 19 years to write, he says. But that’s nothing compared with the spans of time contained in its story.

‘The Waters of Chaos’ event

• 3 p.m. Wednesday at Dole Institute of Politics, 2350 Petefish Drive

• Talk and book signing by author Jerry Dobson, KU professor of geography

• Book is also for sale in Lawrence at The Raven Book Store, the KU Bookstore and Hastings.

Dobson, a professor of geography at Kansas University, and his twin brother, Jeff, began working on the book — well, really, it’s two books — in 1993, and it was finally published in 2012.

Dobson is an accomplished geographer, the president of the American Geographical Society for 11 years, and he was one of the first researchers to make use of geographic information systems, now commonly abbreviated as GIS, back in the 1970s. The two stories in “The Waters of Chaos,” set 10,700 years apart, make use of some of his research about the historical rising and falling of sea levels. But the book also tells a thrilling story, he said.

At an event at KU’s Dole Institute of Politics on Wednesday, Dobson will talk about the book and sign copies.

“We think it’s going to kind of shake some people up,” Dobson said.

That’s because it puts forth a new hypothesis about human evolution and the history of the earth that’s different from what’s commonly accepted, he said.

He didn’t give away too much of what’s put forth in the book, but he said he and his brother have a theory that the evolution of humans and society didn’t happen in a straight line. Evolution may have risen and fallen many times over history, he says, shaped largely by rising and falling sea levels that shrank and expanded the amount of land available and perhaps wiped out great civilizations with catastrophic floods.

Though it’s based on his research, Dobson said it’s just an idea that hasn’t yet been tested. But he thinks it’s worth a look from scientists, and the Dobsons thought the best first step to make that happen was to tell a compelling story that people might notice.

“What we’re really trying to do is get people to think about these things,” Dobson said.

Jeff and Jerry Dobson wrote “The Waters of Chaos” as two separate books in the 1990s, when both were living in Tennessee. Jerry worked for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory there from 1975 until he came to KU in 2001, and Jeff still runs a communications business in Knoxville. Both have doctorates in geography, and both have traveled around the world.

Not coincidentally, one of their “Waters of Chaos” stories, subtitled “The Modern Quest,” is about two twin brothers from Tennessee who travel around the world to unearth clues about an ancient civilization swallowed up by the sea long ago. The other story, “The Ancient Saga,” set more than 10,000 years in the past, tells the stories of characters from that civilization. And there’s a good bit of romance and adventure thrown in, Dobson said.

For years, the Dobsons shopped their book to potential publishers, but the big ones all said no. By 2012, they finally struck a deal with an independent publisher.

They opted to publish the two booksseparately as well as in a version that combines them — not one after the other, but interspersed together.

Chuck Marsh, a KU professor of journalism and a friend of Dobson’s, read that version last year.

After Dobson gave him a copy, he figured he’d give it a read to be nice. But he wound up tearing through it, staying up until 4 a.m. one night to finish it. Each story thread was so compelling, Marsh said, that he’d be angry when it would pause for a switch back to the other one.

He suggested fans of the thriller novels by Dan Brown or Clive Cussler should give it a try. It’s hardly a dry scientific text, he said.

“I read a lot, and it was the best book I read all year,” Marsh said. “It was that good.”

At next week’s event, set for 3 p.m. Wednesday at the Dole Institute, Dobson said he’ll talk about the science behind the book and a bit about the story. It’s worth fleshing out, he says, because the book is meant to take you on a ride but also to make you think.

That’s something it accomplishes well, Marsh said.

“The story is so good,” Marsh said, “and then you’ll get to the end and go, ‘Good heavens, what if they’re right?’ “