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 his second novel. 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, each with a different protagonist and narrator. Especially the middle part has 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 here, but a rather realistic, plausible take on what it would mean for human society and its individuals.

Memory is 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 love and marriage, among other things.

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 infodumps, 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 – yes, a revolution on Mars too. But they don’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 is an interesting, engaging read that shows Robinson’s consistency. It’s also rather short – only 262 pages in my pocket edition. Anyone interested in KSR or the history of science fiction could do much, much worse picking this up.

UPDATE February 2022: The go-to review of this book is on the Utopian in the Works blog. Really an excellent analysis of how the memory theme is tied to the narrative.

My other Kim Stanley Robinson reviews are here: The Wild Shore (1984) – The Memory Of Whiteness (1985) – The Gold Coast (1988) – A Short, Sharp Shock (1990) – Pacific Edge (1990) – The Years of Rice and Salt (2002) – 2312 (2012) – Shaman (2013) – Aurora (2015) – Green Earth (2015, the revised Science In The Capital trilogy (2004-2007)) – New York 2140 (2017) – The Ministry For The Future (2020) – The High Sierra: A Love Story (2022).

Consult the author index for all my other reviews, or my favorite lists.

Click here for an index of my non-fiction or art book reviews, and here for an index of my longer fiction reviews of a more scholarly & philosophical nature.

13 responses to “ICEHENGE – Kim Stanley Robinson (1984)

  1. I read this long ago, and don’t really recall much about it.
    ICYMI: Here is Michael Swanwick’s amusing tribute:
    Thanks for all your reviews! I read them faithfully, especially the SFnal ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Swanwick’s Robinson was a mountaineer, and an obsessive, that made me laugh. I have yet to read Swanwick, but I have a copy of The Iron Dragon’s Daughter on my TBR.

      Thanks for your comment, much appreciated – as you seem a voracious reader of reviews. Your pointers on Goodreads are usually very helpful.


  2. Iron Dragon’s Daughter is very likely his masterwork — so a fine place to start. I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t click for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. And thanks for the kind words re Goodreads! I spend far too much time there. . .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes. I definitely have my favorites there. The Queens of Infinite Space: Nataliya, Carol., the woman-attorney from SLC . . .
    Too bad GR’s software is so clunky. And they just made it worse, with that page makeover! Bah.
    Well, it is what it is . . . 🫤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jennifer Mo, our favorite [senior moment] botanist!
    Poor woman: she loves her cat, but it’s getting old and sick. They live such short lives, compared to us.
    Our current ones are ex-feral brother & sister:
    New family members  ~ Explored
    Beautiful animals — but, well, distant. They were found in a trailer park, and had traumatic kittenhoods.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The GR readers are, just as in RL, mostly women. Fine with me, as I generally prefer women to men. I had 4 sisters!

    Deep enough! ⚒︎

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Re: cats
    DON’T get ferals! Voice of experience!
    The window for socializing kittens is very narrow. Kyle (black) was trapped earlier than his sister Cassandra. He got (somewhat) more socialized than she did — both were in a feral litter, trapped in a trailer park and taken to a shelter. I think 3 of the kittens survived, but one was partially crippled.

    Really. You want kittens/cats who will LIKE you. And cuddle, and do nice cat things! Of course, they will still be CATS, but at least (with luck) you will get nice ones. The litter-mate part worked out: they *really* like each other, and still do, and listening to kitten-talk was fun. But they have limited (to very little) interest in US. Which is frustrating. We wouldn’t do this again!

    Liked by 1 person

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