Shaman: A novel of the Ice Age
An award-winning and bestselling SF writer, Kim Stanley Robinson is widely acknowledged as one of the most exciting and visionary writers in the field. His latest novel, 2312, imagined how we would be living 300 years from now. Now, with his new novel, he turns from our future to our past - to the Palaeolithic era, and an extraordinary moment in humanity's development. An emotionally powerful and richly detailed portrayal of life 30,000 years ago, it is a novel that will appeal both to his existing fans and a whole new mainstream readership.
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Love it unreservedly.
There's a passage in "The Gold Coast" where Jim and his friends try to imagine, generation by generation, a rough sketch of the lives of the inhabitants of a Greek island, ticking off with each leap back in time who they would've been governed by, the language the inhabitants would've spoken, until the arrive at roughly the time the island would've first been inhabited by a group of friends and their families, spreading out from the village where they would've been born to make a living together on a likely looking patch of land where they could imagine making it work. That passage has stuck with me through the years and this novel is almost like an extended riff on the idea -- imagining how the earliest humans would've found a place to eek out a living and increased their numbers until there was a little group ready to break away and make a go of it a little further upriver, or in the next valley over, keeping ties (here: sharing a shaman who's just come of age), but creating a new village. Near the dawn of humanity, when homo sapiens and neanderthals lived side-by side, this story feels more than possible; sure, it's imagined history, speculation, extrapolation, poetic license taken, and yet knowing that we still feel like Stan has told it way that it had to be so.
There are other notes hit here that strike me as mining some of the same rich vein as "The Gold Coast," which, in case it's not obvious, is one of my favorite of Mr. Robinson's novels, if not my favorite. Loon may not be a pre-historic Jim McPherson, but he's not far off. Loon's relationship to Sage and then Elga doesn't map precisely to that of Jim to Virginia Novello and Hana Steentoft but it's another echo.
But this is by no means of pastiche or just a re-shuffling of elements we've seen before. It's beautiful, and haunting, and epic (in a way, but small and deeply personal, too), and tense, and earthy and gross, and spiritual, and it stands alone.
If the storyteller is our shaman, then in the parlance of this novel, we have a good shaman. (Which is just another way to say this is a beautiful story well-told.)
[cross posted from my LibraryThing review: http://www.librarything.com/work/13595634/reviews/98960632]