Friday, 20 January 2012

At Winter's End

I completed my first science fiction read of the year this week while I was offline for several days (our router died). It's for Carl's Sc-fi Experience, a casual reading experience which lasts until the end of February, wherein the reader can read one book or twenty - it's up to him or her. My first book was At Winter's End by the classic sci-fi writer, Robert Silverberg.

A group of people live in a cocoon, deep inside a mountain. They've been there for 700,000 years, controlling their population by introducing a death-time, ie. when a person reaches the age of 35 they are sent outside to die. *Outside* there is an ice age brought on by the fall of 'death stars' onto the planet Earth. But the long winter is coming to an end. The female chief of the clan, Koshmar, is going to be the one to lead her tribe of 60 out of the caves and into the sunlight. What will they find?

Koshmar has the Chronicler, Thaggoran, to help her, and Torlyri, the offering-woman. And then there's Hresh, 8 years old and the boy who asks questions... a born Chronicler if ever there was one. They have a handful of warriors to protect them too, but still this will be the hardest thing they ever do.

Once outside they walk... and walk. They are beset by various problems. Some of the creatures they come across are dangerous and they lose some of their friends, including the Chronicler, Thaggoran. This is a devastating loss as he is the one guiding them with his knowledge of the chronicles. It falls to Hresh to take his place and become 'the old man' of the tribe at 8 years old.

It's written in the chronicles that the tribe's future will start with finding the ruins of the city of Vengiboneeza, the ancient capital that belonged to the sapphire-eyed people, one of the six sentient peoples of the Old World. Their journey is long and hazardous and as they travel Hresh has to grow up very quickly and find the answers to many questions. But it's in the city of Vengiboneeza that Hresh will really come of age and find the answer to all of his unanswered questions.

I didn't realise this was an Earth-based sci-fi story until the river close to where the cocoon was situated was described, its previous names mentioned, and one of them was the Mississippi. I'd previously thought it was an alien planet yarn, I've no idea why... the cover of the book looks very alien perhaps.

Anyway, regardless of that, I found this book reminding me of why I love classic sci-fi writers so much. Actually this book is not that old - it was written in 1988 - it just *feels* much older, as though it could have been written in the 50s or 60s. And that's not down to the plot because that's quite modern in feel... the chief of the clan being a female, the sexuality described (not explicit but definitely all kinds of sexuality included) and so on. I think it's the quality of the writing that made it feel older. It's beautifully written, *intelligently* written... it wasn't a book I could whip through quickly at all.

I think perhaps the world building felt like it was from an older decade too. Silverberg spent a lot of time inventing new species, the six sentient species of the old world were interesting and imaginative, though I didn't feel that all of them worked: the plant people didn't sound feasible to me. That didn't matter as the story wasn't about them, it was about how the world had changed since they had died out and how the new 'people' were going to establish a new civilisation. I loved the old city of Vengiboneeza... and found Hresh's explorations of it and his slightly shocking discoveries fascinating. The characters felt real to me, with many foibles and twists to their personalities, none of them perfect. *Maybe* Hresh was a very old 8 year old but that didn't bother me overly.

All in all I absolutely loved this book and have already sent for its sequel, The New Springtime. It reminded me of why I love science fiction so much... because it takes me to places I could never imagine where I never really know what will happen next. And I wonder if sci-fi fans are born not made? From a very early age, 4 or 5, I can remember being fascinated by talk of space exploration and other planets. Star Trek, when it arrived in the UK in 1969 (I was 16) felt like the answer to a prayer and as natural to me as breathing. Others have no interest in sci-fi whatsoever and think those of us who do are a very weird bunch indeed. LOL! Each to his (or her) own.

I'm hoping to read a couple more books for the sci-fi experience... the one I'm told I really must get to from my pile (by Susan from You Can Never Have Too Many Books) is Doomsday Book by Connie Willis. But there're a couple of others too. I may end up carrying on my sci-fi reading way past the end date of the 'experience'.


Jodie Robson said...

Ooh, interesting - I've read quite a lot of Silverberg but not this one, and I like the sound of it.

You should have a large box of tissues to hand when you read Doomsday Book - and you really, really ought to read it! It's wonderful!

Susan said...

Oh Cath, what a wonderful post. The weird thing is I was just thinking along the same lines, of rediscovering my interest in science-fiction, because of Among Others, of all books! I have joined the Science Fiction Grand Masters Challenge that Carl linked us to on his site, because I've realized that I really need to catch up on my reading of sci-fi. But it's not because of that challenge, it's more because I realized upon reading Among Others, that science fiction is about ideas. What if we did this, or that? What would it be like? I used to read quite a bit when I was very young, and except for Connie Willis got away from it, and I feel like it's time to read it again - I want to read The Moon is a harsh Mistress, which I've never read yet. And any Ursula K LeGuin, I haven't read anything by her! I feel like you and I (and Geraniumcat and host of others) are from some shared club that is curious about everything in the world and all it's possibilities. Science fiction is one way of exploring the future, fun, too. Certainly you've made At Winter's End, which I've never heard of, sound intriguing, so on my list it goes, too!

Science fiction is a place to explore all the future possibilities, I think I'm trying to say. I'm doing a post on it today. How fun that you and I are rediscovering our early passions again!

DesLily said...

I know you like reading sci fi.. not sure why I never got into it really... I do well with a little sci fi (like Pern) but when I first tried to read star trek book and star wars books I never got hooked... oh well it's always good to hear someone really enjoyed what they read no matter what it is!!!

Kailana said...

I have never read Silverberg before, but I really should. Maybe this one...

Cath said...

GeraniumCat: I honestly can't remember how much Silverberg I read as a teen. A bit, I'm sure, as I used to read all the sci-fi the library had back then. But it's possible I've read more as an adult than as a teen. I shall certainly be reading a lot more, that's all I can say...

Okay... 'forewarned is forearmed', as they say, I'll make sure I have tissues at the ready.

Susan: Your review of Among Others is wonderful and I've certainly added it to my 'must get' list. It doesn't come out in the UK until the 12th. of March (I nearly wrote 'the 12th. of never' - Glen Campbell moment...;-)) *but* I can get it on my Kindle now if I want it. And cheaper. But I've spent a lot on books the last couple of weeks. Decisions...

I got away from sci-fi too. I'm not sure why, or where I went. It wasn't to fantasy as my love of that genre is fairly recent. I think in my 20s and 30s I went to historical romance, and then in my 40s I discovered Victorian ghost stories. In my 50s book blogging came along and that changed *everything*. LOL.

I have read some sci-fi over the past few years, discovering authors such as Sheri Tepper and Karen Traviss but I now feel like I want to explore the genre a lot more and 'catch up'.

I haven't read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress either. But I have read Ursula Le Guin... you have a few treats ahead of you with her.

Pat: I think some authors have blurred the boundaries between sci-fi and fantasy and Anne McCaffrey was one of those. This book I reviewed here, At Winter's End, is another blurred boundaries one... quite a lot about it that's magical, unless they find some way of explaining a few things. I honestly think you would like this book.

Kelly: The trouble is there are so many good authors out there and it's so hard to read them all. I thought the older I got the fewer authors would appeal. WRONG. Quite the reverse. I'm either becoming more open to different kinds of writing or there are more and more authors writing what I like. I'm not sure which...

DesLily said...

oh gawd... do I really need another book? LOL LOL LOL

DesLily said...

one thing i definately do NOT like about sci fi... their names are worse to TRY to pronounce then fantasy names!!

Cath said...

Pat: You need another book... about as much as I do.... lol

Ah yes... the names sci-fi authors (and fantasy ones) make up. One could write a whole post. I'm very poor at deciding how things should be pronounced. I always hope the author will give you a hint but they don't always.