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Icehenge, Kim Stanley Robinson

I’ve long had to admit that while I liked Stan Robinson’s writing, I had never read any of his novels, just his short stories in magazines and collections. No more, although the case could be made that Icehenge is a collection of three novellas. In fact, parts of Icehenge were published as “To Leave a Mark” (in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction) and “On the North Pole of Pluto” (in Orbit 21). This is the reason why I picked Icehenge to read first, before Robinson’s first published novel, The Wild Shore; that is, to satisfy my anal retentive (does that have a hyphen?) desire for reading things chronologically. Icehenge is three stories inter-connected, each from a different time period and point of view. The first tells of Emma Weil and the Martian Unrest. The second of Nederland and his archaelogical investigation into the Unrest. And last is Doya, who questions whether Nederland’s “proof” is actually an ingenuous hoax. Complicated? Yes, but also done in such a way that the convolutions are easy to follow. Robinson admires Philip K. Dick–his graduate thesis was on Dick’s novels–and it shows in the theme of this book: what is real? What can we trust? But Stan isn’t just copying Dick. For one, as much as I admire Phil Dick personally, I have to admit that the man wasn’t a great “writer” (used in the connotation of how words, sentences and paragraphs work), especially in his early SF novels. (I feel obliged to go on to say that Dick’s writing improved tremendously over the years, and much of his later work did not suffer in this aspect.) No, the reason Dick’s early novels are still read is the wealth of imagination and the sheer exhilaration of stretching the mind. Stan, on the other hand, trades off some of the exhilaration and imagination for excellent writing. Several people have recommended his latest novel, Red Mars, to me, and I do intend to read it…after I finally read all these others of his that have been sitting on my to-be-read shelf for far too long.

[Finished 28 July 1993]


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