Sunday, July 25, 2010

Kim Stanley Robinson - Icehenge

This 1984 novel by one of Science Fictions masters is a strange amalgam. It begins in 2248AD, with a revolution on Mars against the "Committee". This revolution is seen only at a distance, at least until its last moments. One of the co-incidental actions is that a group of space miners in the outer solar system, looking at existing society in despair, decide to build a star ship and found a new society in a different solar system.

The novel then goes through two further sections, by 2547AD the revolution is long defeated and forgotten. The ever powerful Committee funds archaeological expeditions, one of which uncovers power evidence that the revolution did occur and was more than simply an episode of rioting. This creates huge social turmoil as contemporary views of society are suddenly changed. Simultaneously a monument is found on Pluto's north pole. This "Icehenge" is accurately made and scrawled with the figures 2248, linking it to the first star ship to leave the solar system.

There follows a battle to explain and understand what has happened. Rather cleverly Robinson uses this to show how different strands of thought in archaeology often take on major contemporary importance, or reflect modern debates and prejudices. Most of part two is an attempt by a minority of experts to argue that there was a revolution, that the committee has blood on its hand for the suppression of the revolution and that the world is a different place.

Part three turns this back on its head again. To say more would undermine the plot for future readers, though again, the author is showing how we shouldn't take anything for granted.

Sadly this is possible the story's weak point. I didn't feel that the conclusion was satisfactory, even on the novel's own terms. In fact the author seems to make a virtue of not tying up the loose plot threads and certainly left this reader hanging. But as one of the few examples of the genre that I call Archaeology in Space it's certainly worth a read, if only for the reflection it allows on what history is, and who writes it.

Related Reviews

Robinson - The Years of Rice and Salt

No comments: