ICEHENGE – Kim Stanley Robinson (1984)

IcehengeAfter reading 2312 and Aurora, and watching a lot of his talks and interviews on YouTube, Kim Stanley Robinson has become one of my favorite authors. That is because he combines different persona in such an interesting way: a great observer of humanity, a sharp scientific mind, a poet, and a radical, utopian dreamer. I want to read everything he wrote, and so I started one of his first novels. Does it hold up to his most recent work?

What struck me most in Icehenge is that we meet a very lyrical KSR. In this mystery story about the origins of a Stonehenge-like construction on Pluto, discovered in the 23rd century, Robinson already shows his talent as a writer of fiction that transcends the mere science of SF.

The book consists of 3 parts, that each has a different protagonist and narrator. Especially the middle part has a bit of a melancholic, lyrical feel to it. This is because one of the main themes of the book is the effects of longevity on humans. There’s not much of the naïve ideas featured in some other SF on that subject to be found here, but a rather realistic, plausible take on what it would mean for human society and its individuals – memory being one of the topics explored. The narrator of the 2nd part has lived for a few centuries, and as such has a certain ‘wisdom’. In the form of an autobiography he writes sharp musings about, among other things, love and marriage.

You can make unhappiness into an aesthetic experience, and everyone tries to, so there must be something in it; but I don’t think it does much good. It only means you will remember it better, because of the coding in objective correlatives. It doesn’t make you less unhappy.

For those afraid of Robinson’s info dumps, there’s none of that in this early book. On the contrary, there is beauty to be found.

  “It is a form of grace to become nothing but a task;

  “words are gossamer in a basalt world.

KSR being KSR, this is also a book that explores the usual political and social themes – and yes, a revolution on Mars too – , but it doesn’t dominate the story, all themes balance very well.

It used to be that people could say to themselves, why should I sacrifice my life for social change, it will take years and I’ll not see the benefits of it, let this time be peaceful at least and the next generation can worry about it.

Although Icehenge isn’t as epic, accomplished or mature as his 2 latest books, it surely is an interesting, engaging read that shows Robinson’s consistency. It’s also rather short – only 262 pages in my pocket edition. I think I’m ready to dive into the Mars trilogy…

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