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A Short, Sharp Shock

3.35  ·  Rating Details ·  353 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
Kim Stanley Robinson, award-winning author of the bestselling Red Mars, Green Mars, and the soon-to-be-published Blue Mars, was called "a literary landscape artist, creating breathtaking vistas" by The Detroit Metro News. Now he confirms his reputation for brilliance and for the unexpected in this luminous short work.

A Short, Sharp Shock

A man tumbles through wild surf, hal
Kindle Edition, 208 pages
Published December 23rd 2009 by Bantam Books (first published 1990)
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Apr 25, 2011 Therese rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tbctsnbn, 2011-books
Maybe a Buddhist meditation? Maybe a thought experiment? Maybe science fiction? Maybe not? Whatever it is, I really liked it. The setting is a ribbon of land encircling an ocean world. Along this spine travels Thel, meeting odd folk and thinking about his journey. Presaging the New Weird by a decade, Robinson introduces people living in giant snail shells, "facewomen" with Mandelbrot eyes, an intertidal bridge keeper, and many more delights. Plus a few wince-worthy scenes that I'm trying to blot ...more
Jan 29, 2013 Katherine rated it it was amazing
It's hard to know how to classify this book -- it has aspects of both science fiction and fantasy. It is also very retro in a way, in that I mean that it seems like it was written in the 60s rather than the 90s.

But in the end I really enjoyed it. It's very short, only 200 pages, and I finished in in a few hours. It's like reading someone's dream. It's otherworldly, hallucinatory, and has layers of meaning and metaphor that escape you upon initial reading. I think I'll be reading it again at some
Guy Haley
Sep 09, 2015 Guy Haley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book's been in my collection for 15 years, according to the press release slip I found still preserved inside the cover. Fittingly, I read it on top of a cliff by the roaring sea.
A man wakes up on a beach in a strange world, next to him is a woman he doesn't recognise but who he knows means everything to him. When she vanishes, he sets off to rescue her, taking him on a mind-bending journey that is a little like the Wizard of Oz for grown-ups, but with a lot more sea and a lot more sex.
Adam  McPhee
Surreal with a strange logic underlying it all. The geography of the world is fascinating: a thin peninsular continent that runs across the equator of a water world. It's populated by strange creatures: men with trees growing out of their shoulders and women with faces on their eyes. The infighting crab beach shellcottage people are the best.

(view spoiler)
Jun 15, 2013 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this 70 page story a man and a woman are washed ashore on a peculiar, narrow strip of a continent that stretches on and on. Both have lost their memory and after being separated the man tries to find the woman. Once they find each other together they travel along the narrow continent and encounter different communities and cultures. They are continuously being pursued by a group of dangerous villains that want to get hold of a ritual object the couple have taken from them.
This short story ma
Dec 25, 2015 Bart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: speculative, reviewed
Please read the full review on Weighing A Pig...


The themes of the book are rich & diverse, and have to do with companionship, sexual attraction, the nature of time, memory, the inherent miscommunication between individuals, aesthetics, geology, the animalistic nature of man, the freedom of waves, and being determined by one’s surroundings. The novella’s world – a ridge among the equator of an ocean world, circling it like a spine – determines the narrative structure too: there’s nowhere
Feb 09, 2010 Mark rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I did something with A Short Sharp Shock which I rarely do -- abandoned it after about 50 pages. It was just too weird. Guy wakes up on beach with no memory, there's a woman there. Next morning she's gone. He goes to look for her for reasons that nobody understands. There are people made of seaweed and other people with fruit trees growing out of their heads. What, exactly, did you smoke while writing this one, KSR? Anyway, it was too weird for me.
Jan 22, 2016 Vikram rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
KSR’s striking prose is really quite phenomenal. Lines like "The incredible furnace of the sun fountained light even as it sank into the ocean, which gleamed like a cut polished stone” or "And then they were in the endless dusk, all its dark grainy colors filling with blackness as the eternal night came on” evoke vivid visuals. As some of the best descriptions I’ve come across, they generate pristine images, a healthy mirror of the main character’s interaction with the world. KSR’s attention to ...more
Jan 11, 2016 Beck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, and maybe a bit of geology, all rolled into one nice neat conch.
Can be hard to follow if the reader doesn't pay attention, or if you have zero interest in metaphor.
Maybe an allegory on how single minded determination often means we don't learn from our mistakes and are, therefore, destined to repeat them. Maybe not.
Maybe an allegory on how change brings incredible opportunity but only if we stop to allow the opportunity in. Maybe not.
Maybe an allegory on tak
Jul 21, 2014 Amy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I would have had any clue about the ending I would have gulped this fantasy-sci-fi-literature down. Luckily I didn't and sipped it with leisure. I recommend you do the same. This book is for everyone except minors. There is some references to a particular kind of civilization that most would consider lewd. This story is deeper than what you get on the surface (pun intended for those who have read it). I don't know what took me so long to read something by Kim Stanley Robinson but I will be lo ...more
Jun 25, 2015 The_Mad_Swede rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction, 2010
I am severely torn about this book. Kim Stanley Robinson is clearly not a bad writer, in terms of language; nor is the basic concept of this novel bad or uninteresting (I would not have picked it up if it had been). And yet... the end result bores me.

I started reading this book before Christmas, thinking I'd be able to add another finished book to 2009 year's list, but alas, I felt like trudging my way through treacle and eventually got stuck in it; putting it down for a few months and, in fact,
K. Axel
Sep 05, 2011 K. Axel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Tanith lee and Neil Gaiman fans
Shelves: fantasy, full-reviews
The Story...
Try to hang on and if you have questions afterwards, well, you must clearly read the book on your own!

A man wakes up surrounded by water. He fights his way to the shore where he learns that another person has washed ashore as well. A woman. He describes her as a swimmer, built for the ocean. He closes his eyes and when he opens them in the morning, the woman is gone. She has been taken by a tribe called the spine kings. These savages are cannibals and will sacrifice the woman when
Aug 18, 2014 Palmyrah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A thoroughly mystifying book, full of well-drawn and often beautiful images, of which I could make neither head nor tail. Is this a halfway house inhabited by souls between reincarnations? A simulated reality gone wrong? What Purgatory is really like?

I own the book. Maybe I should try reading it again. If I do, I'll modify this review as appropriate afterwards.
Dione Basseri
If you are interested in artistic writing, without much worry about highly-contained plot or logic, then this story might fit you perfectly, but it left me less than satisfied.

Dream-like and flowing, this story follows a man who has been shipwrecked on an expansive island. Taken in first by a tribe of people with trees growing from their skin, he sets out to save their fellow tribesmen and a woman who was lost in the shipwreck. The captors, known as the spine kings, are ruthless, and their anger
Feb 28, 2012 Harlan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book, a quasi-magical quasi-SF novel about a man with no memory, finding his way on a bizarre planet, was totally enthralling and absorbing. After finishing it, my perceptions of reality had changed, and it took a while before I was able to relate to the real world again! Robinson's writing in this work, more than most of his other novels, is artistic and literary, almost Kafka-esque. I would also compare A Short, Sharp Shock to a similar book, also a surrealistic fantasy written by an SF a ...more
Mar 07, 2014 Don rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author painted beautiful landscapes and great pictures in my mind while I listened to this audiobook. However, by the end I was left wondering what the point was. Not a big deal, but as a reader I felt there was no closure. Interesting, yet strange story.
Tyrannosaurus regina
Beautiful and strange with a dream-like quality. It was at times gentle and at times brutal and it is best read without trying to impose a standard sense of logic on it. Somehow, this story just is, and it is exactly as it should be.
Dec 21, 2015 Pamela rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, fantasy, notes
Mythical type story. Reminded me of The Cleft by Doris Lessing, but is entirely different. I think it's just the mythical quality that prompted the similarity.

It has trees that are alive! Tree Folk. :)

Michael Rhode
Jul 15, 2015 Michael Rhode rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: given-away
I kept thinking of Roger Zelazny as I read this novella, but not in a good way. Unlike Zelazny's short works, this reads like a fragment of a longer piece.
Briane Pagel
May 31, 2015 Briane Pagel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Simply phenomenal. I read it a year ago and can't stop thinking about how great it was. It should be read and re-read, a lot.
Nov 25, 2014 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dreamlike. I enjoy reading stories that are unusual, set in times or places that I could not experience in ordinary life.
Feb 11, 2015 Brent rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Gulliver meets Heinlein. Poignant and extrapolated commentary.
Jul 04, 2008 Alsha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Kim Stanley Robinson, Arthur C. Clarke, or surreal adventure stories.
I found this one in a 50c bin in a used book store a couple weeks ago. A lovely story - much more lyrical and fantastical than KSR's Mars trilogy, which are the only other books of his I've read. He has always shown a knack for beautiful imagery coupled with the detail and expertise of a scientist, and this story exemplifies his style. There were some truly inspired passages in this one - mostly about the past; it was in great part about the past, including a series of different creation myths a ...more
Wierd, but interesting.
A bizarre story which reads easily enough but of which I'm sure I'm missing the deeper meaning
Piers Rippey
Jun 07, 2016 Piers Rippey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I super liked this strange plotless book about the magic melancholy of life. A horse is a fish made of trees.
Jan 06, 2016 Angela rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, weird, bc-11
I am sure there is some deeper meaning in this book that I just did not least I am hoping so, otherwise it really is just a collection of creation myths from a world that doesn't exist. And not even really interesting myths. This should have been an entertaining story of a travel through a foreign land, with discussions on all the weird and interesting peoples that inhabit this world....but instead, it is just a meandering story that doesn't seem to go anywhere.
C.M. Muller
Jul 17, 2013 C.M. Muller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant and puzzling short novel which will leave you wondering just what in the outer limits you have read. My brain has been on fire not only in trying to figure out the predicament of the amnesiac protagonist, but also with the surrealistic imagery on display. Cats, what a fever dream!
Apr 28, 2008 Graham rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: sci fi and fantasy fan, kim stanley robinson fans
This book is a trip. It is a fantasy, it takes you to another world that has one continuous ring of land circling an ocean world. There is a jungle, a man who does not know how he got there, a young woman he helps. A great way to forget current concerns.
Jun 18, 2009 Shauna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of literary science fiction or of Kim Stanley Robinson
On a metaphorical level, this short book works and is reminiscent of some medieval literary works. The beautiful language is also satisfying. As a story, though, I found it somewhat frustrating because the main story question is never answered.
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Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer, probably best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy.

His work delves into ecological and sociological themes regularly, and many of his novels appear to be the direct result of his own scientific fascinations, such as the 15 years of research and lifelong fascination with Mars which culminated in his most famous work. He has, due to his
More about Kim Stanley Robinson...

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