After 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) – 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).