Reading The Country of Ice Cream Star (TCICS) I was reminded of two novels. The first is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (review). It too depicts a posReading The Country of Ice Cream Star (TCICS) I was reminded of two novels. The first is Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker (review). It too depicts a post-apocalyptic world where a young, driven hero journeys from a parochial life into a much larger world and finds himself playing a much larger role than he had dreamed possible. In both books, the heroes retain an essential decency and innate moral resilience despite becoming wiser to how the world works. And both books are written in an invented dialect. In TCICS – as well as in Riddley Walker – the narrator’s English serves to bring her circumstances alive in a way that writing the novel in Standard English wouldn’t have. Everything Ice Cream sees, feels and does is brought into sharper focus because the reader has to experience it from a slightly skewed perspective. I can only describe the writing as “exuberant.” There’s an energy in it that makes reading it a pleasure.
The second book I’m reminded of is William Nolan’s Logan's Run. Here again we have a dystopian future. A true nightmare: a world run by teen-agers, where life ends at 21. In Logan’s Run, the death sentence is enforced by the Sandmen of Deep Sleep. In the world of Ice Cream Star, it’s plague that has carried off everyone over 21, and it continues to do so. Every child gets the “posies” around 18 or 19, and every child dies before their 21st year.
Ice Cream Sixteen Star is the oldest girl of a group of nomads – the Sengles – who are currently living near the ruins of Lowell, Mass., alongside more sedentary groups like the Lowells, the Christings and the Nat Mass Armies.
My mother and my grands and my great-grands been Sengle pure. Our people be a tarry night sort, and we skinny and long. My brother Driver climb a tree with only hands, because our bones so light, our muscles fortey strong. We flee like a dragonfly over water, we fight like ten guns, and we be bell to see. Other children go deranged and unpredictable for our love.
We Sengles be a wandering sort. We never grown nothing from anything, never had no tato patch nor cornfield. Be thieves, and brave to hunt. A Sengle hungry even when he eat, even when he rich, he still want to grab and rob, he hungry for something he ain’t never seen nor thought of. We was proud, we was ridiculous as wild animals, but we was bell and strong. (p. 3)
The delicate balance among the various groups is soon disrupted when the Sengles capture a “roo,” short for – as we learn – “Russian.” Pasha, apparently a deserter, tells Ice Cream that there’s a cure for the “posies” but it’s on the ships of an invading army down near Washington. Ice Cream determines to get that cure – both for the sake of her brother, who is showing signs of the disease, and for the sake of all her Sengles, in fact, for the sake of every child. And so begins her journey into a wider and more dangerous world than anything she’s seen. From New York – now known as Ciudad de las Marias, a catholic theocracy run by a gaggle of adolescent cardinals who would give the Renaissance Papacy a run for its money – to Quantico, where a band of “marines” holds on to the sacred grounds of the Mall, to confronting the invaders and wresting the cure from them (sort of).
Not to spoil it too much, but the ending is not a “happy” one. Not in the sense that Ice Cream and her allies save the day and bring a new, better way of life to the Nighted States. It’s messy, like life, and that’s what makes it so much more satisfying than otherwise. As Ice Cream writes at the conclusion:
And I know inside this final loss, I going to save this place. I be small in all this blackness world, this ship of drunken vampires, but through my hearten wounds, I living yet, and all my love the same. Nor death been ever arguments to me, I know my truth. I know ain’t evils in no life nor cruelties in no red hell can change the vally heart of Ice Cream Star. (p. 580)
TCICS compares favorably with Riddley Walker. I thoroughly enjoyed it and – after a long drought – can recommend something without reservation. This is a remarkable book, certainly the best new fiction I’ve read so far this year, and Ice Cream has joined my list of “favorite characters.”...more
Julie Czerneda is not an author whom I follow regularly. But she has been on my radar ever since reading A Thousand Words for Stranger several many yeJulie Czerneda is not an author whom I follow regularly. But she has been on my radar ever since reading A Thousand Words for Stranger several many years ago. I read Survival, the first book in the Species Imperative series, when it came out and enjoyed it well enough. By the time Migration, book two, came along, I was reading other things and never found the time or inclination to continue. Recently, DAW issued the entire series in this omnibus volume, offered by the Science Fiction Book Club, and – the stars being favorable – I decided to complete my reading.
A brief summary: Sometime in the future, Earth has become a member of the Interspecies Union, a galaxy-wide association of aliens held together by the Sinzi, who control the transect technology that makes FTL travel possible. While interspecies relations are never easy, the situation appears stable and there are no threats on the horizon. In the Solar system, heavy industries and much of the population have moved off Earth, allowing the planet to begin recovering from the ravages of the Industrial Age.
Things are never so simple, of course; otherwise we wouldn’t have a novel. Along one of the transects that pass through the Solar system, there is a region of space called the Chasm, where every potentially life-bearing world has been scoured of all organic life. No current space-faring species knows who, why or how this occurred but recently similar scourings have been happening on worlds along the transect.
All this is of little concern to our heroine Mackenzie Connor (Mac), a marine biologist whose primary (read – sole) focus is “salmon.” She’s co-administrator of a research station on the northwest Pacific coast of North America and has neither plans nor desire to be anything else.
Her “perfect world” is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Brymn, a Dhryn archaeologist, who insists that her knowledge of migration patterns is crucial to solving the mystery of the Chasm and the survival his race. Mac is furious at this intrusion and dubious about her importance in the matter but before these questions can be explored, the research station is attacked and Mac’s closest friend, Emily Mamani, is kidnapped by a xenophobic species called the Ro. An enemy so terrifying to the Dhryn that they become catatonic when in their presence.
Survival ends with some startling revelations about the Dhryn and their relationship to the Ro, as well as equally startling discoveries about Emily and her actual relationship to these enigmatic enemies. Migration continues the story, with Mac focusing on getting Emily back from the Ro. And Regeneration completes the arc with a final confrontation with the xenophobes (view spoiler)[and redemption for the Dhryn (hide spoiler)].
As other reviewers have mentioned, there’s a lot of filler. Some of the side trips are useful. Such as the aside when Mac visits her family’s cabin and meets Kay (a Trisulian) and Fourteen (a Myg), two aliens whose presence then and later prove essential to the story. Other subplots are less so. The weakest is the romance between Mac and Nikolai Trojanowski (Nik), a covert agent of Earthgov and sometimes the IU. It’s such a staid, by-the-numbers, boring relationship that it brings everything to a shuddering halt whenever the reader has to slog through the couple’s all-too-cute repartee. You could excise the entire romantic subplot and lose nothing in the story-telling. If Czerneda really had to include a romance, I wish she would have pursued one between Mac and Emily. That’s a relationship that could have had energy, and would have been more interesting than what we got.
Clichéd romance aside, when Czerneda focuses on her story – the existential threat to the IU and Mac’s role in resolving it – the pacing is good, the plot interesting, and it mostly makes up for the novel’s weaknesses. I think the author does a particularly good job of conveying the “alienness” of her aliens. She can’t always fully develop these traits but she does well with making the Dhryn and Sinzi, for example, not just humans with forehead prostheses. (view spoiler)[On the other hand, the Ro are one-dimensional, moustache-twirling villains who should have been more nuanced, like the Dhryn or the Trisulians (who tend to act like sociopathic scavengers from a human perspective but are still convincingly portrayed by Czerneda). (hide spoiler)]
I’m on the fence as to recommending these books. If you’re already familiar with Czerneda’s work, and like it, you’ll like these books. If not, she’s not a good enough author (IMO) to get enthusiastic about.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more