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Kim Stanley Robinson, the New York Times bestselling author of science fiction masterworks such as the Mars trilogy and 2312, has, on many occasions, imagined our future. Now, in SHAMAN, he brings our past to life as never before.

There is Thorn, a shaman himself. He lives to pass down his wisdom and his stories -- to teach those who would follow in his footsteps.

There is Heather, the healer who, in many ways, holds the clan together.

There is Elga, an outsider and the bringer of change.

And then there is Loon, the next shaman, who is determined to find his own path. But in a world so treacherous, that journey is never simple -- and where it may lead is never certain.

456 pages, Hardcover

First published September 3, 2013

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About the author

Kim Stanley Robinson

232 books6,195 followers
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 fascination with Mars, become a member of the Mars Society.

Robinson's work has been labeled by reviewers as "literary science fiction".

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 630 reviews
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,737 followers
September 29, 2015
This book was 10% story and 90% daily life of the ice age man.

Of that 90%, half of it is references to and descriptions of sex and sex organs - and it doesn't seem to have a point. I can understand trying to tell a story and make it is realistic as possible (in this case I would assume a lot of guess work based on research), and in doing so, adding some everyday personality to it so it is not too dry. But for this author, sex seemed to be number one "personality" additive. (example: there are a lot of trips to a cave in this book and you can only imagine how it is described - yes, let your mind go to the gutter . . .)

Also, it can be inferred that cavemen did not speak English (unless they were Geico cavemen!), but I found the added slang anachronisms kind of distracting. There was a lot of f-words and s-words, and while I am sure that ancient man probably cussed, it just felt weird here. (example: at one point a character says "I painted the f-ing cave" or something like that . . . just odd). Also, there is a character that says "Mamma Mia" several times . . . Italian cavemen?

So, if you are really into prehistoric fiction, then you would probably like this book. If you are into Fifty Shades of Grey and always wished that it had been set in prehistoric times instead - give this one a go. Other than that . . . feel free to move on to another book!
Profile Image for zxvasdf.
537 reviews40 followers
August 4, 2013
Kim Stanley Robinson, the master of survival stories, has extrapolated a riveting account of paleolithic life. Shaman is about a tribe seen through the eyes of the fledgling shaman Loon.

The first thing that strikes you a couple of pages in is that survival is hard. If you had to do what they had to do to survive, you'd probably die. We live in a world filled with provisions created by generations past, fueled by knowledge of long-suffering centuries. So these early people, they were left to their wits, the insistence of hunger.

Everything that can be eaten is eaten. Along with the meat, there's the fat, kidneys, intestines, the tongue, marrow. Nothing is wasted. Once the season becomes warm, it is a race to collect enough resources to survive the next winter and spring, which is the hardest because summer is within reach, but winter won't leave just yet.

Most of the prose in the book is devoted to detailed descriptions of the landscape which fill the transitions from place to place; you are overwhelmed by the immense, unfeeling brutality of nature. You are utterly dwarfed. The ice doesn't wait for you to cross when the spring melt occurs. The mountain lions will eat you if you are too slow. If there is no food, you watch yourself die.

So you have a scattering of tribes slowly inventing a set of rules to fit their environment and social conditions. The shaman is there to keep the people in line. Rude and abrasive, his demeanour is a slap in the face, and his songs are parables of remembrance. Make no mistakes again, the shaman says as he flicks your ear. That is his magic.

Apart from the incessant struggle to stay alive, Shaman is about defining your humanity. Loon struggles with his understanding of the world, and his adopted parents, Thorn the shaman and Heather the herb woman, shares with him the wisdom of a hard lifetime. As befits youth, Loon rails against his teachers, but eventually discovers many of their truths to be correct, and erroneous as well, while discovering some of his own truths.

Shaman made me realize how inadequate much of modern man is to conditions of survival. Could we consume the fat pads behind the eyes and kidneys with relish? Would we derive pleasure from small morsels of collected mushrooms? Would we attempt stealth to purloin a day old carcass from ravenous mountain lions? Life's a bitch they say, but we haven't realized she's mellowed some since then.

Through Loon's eyes, we find that maybe long ago man isn't as much different from ourselves as we might think. People have always loved, slept, eaten, fucked, shared, fought, killed, envied. It's always the circumstances that have changed, not the people. So Kim Stanley Robinson humanizes this abstract concept we have of the ice men we have dredged from the glaciers.

Shaman reconciles the present with the past, creates a connection between our descendants and ourselves. All you have to do is put yourself in Loon's place. Try to vividly imagine his all-consuming misery, and the equally consuming moments of small pleasures. Feel the cold on your flesh, the thud of your spear in the flank of a bison.

The flick of the shaman's finger on your ear.

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,910 followers
November 21, 2020
I should make a disclaimer here. I hesitate to call this SF except in a single case: Kim Stanley Robinson has created a world, built it out of the kind of science we know, featuring old humans during the ice age and extrapolating from there.

It's not really SF or F, but it shares a lot of the features. Most interestingly, it feels like a lot of the low-magic fantasy novels that have come out recently. Modern feel. And of course, it reminds us of Clan of the Cave Bear. But it's much more fascinating to see a more modern take on the subject from one of the most science-devoted writers in the field.

Primarily, I loved the psychology of it. Shamanism, nature worship, personality typing, and just how freaking difficult it was to survive during the age. Anyone who says that these people weren't intelligent has got to have a few screws loose. Survival takes a lot of effort.

This should all be pretty self-descriptive. But I should point out that Robinson's tale of life during this time IS a fascinating and interesting one. The story itself never lost me, and even if I have to let the novel take liberties with certain language bits and let the translation of certain ideas take its course, I'm not going to complain about it here.

It still produced a good novel for us. Even if I might want to complain about certain aspects of how they might have thought about things, the grand majority was spot on for my understanding. (Right or Wrong, it was a good novel.)

I do recommend it. Especially if you were annoyed with Clan of the Cave Bear and wanted something with a bit more substance and less violent sex.
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews649 followers
December 20, 2013
Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel may seem like a change from his past works, but in a way it fits in well with his other works. Instead of spaceships we get the end of the last ice age. And although you may think that this is a huge change in what Kim usually writes, we do get a story about humans surviving and adapting through innovation and investigation, just like all of his stories. 'Galileo's Dream' may have seemed like Kim was talking about the beginnings of science, but with 'Shaman' he shows that there are no beginnings of science and that it is essentially part of being human.

Kim has stated that his inspiration for this novel come from extensive hiking near glaciers and the type of environments that Europe would have been like at the end of the last ice age. On these hikes Kim would imagine what it would have been like to be a human at this time. Other inspiration has come from the ongoing investigation of Otzi, the five and a half thousand year old body found exposed in a glacier in 1991. Clothes and other artifacts found with the body have survived wonderfully and provide a great insight into the technology and innovation of the time.

What Kim produces is a heart-warming, coming of age tale of an apprentice shaman. We join him in his first wandering, cast aside into the wilderness naked and with no tools. We learn an awful lot about his clan and how they function in day to day life. And every character you encounter is well-drawn and is a complete individual. These people and the book itself does well to remove itself from using the standard caveman stereotype and indeed shows that 'humanity' has been with us all along and did not come about with the rise of civilisation.

I found that I did not enjoy this novel as much as some of Kim's other works such as the Mars trilogy and 'Galileo's Dream', but compared to most other works out there, it is still a brilliant and thoughtful work full of wonder and heart. In my opinion even when Kim is experimenting and trying something different like this, he could write the pants off all but a few authors.
Profile Image for Ana-Maria Negrilă.
Author 23 books197 followers
April 26, 2017
O carte bine documentată, cu personaje mai bine realizate decât în alte romane ale autorului. Acțiune puțină și previzibilă, dar lumea creată este destul de interesantă ca să stârnească interesul. Fără să fie extraordinară, este o lectură plăcută.
Profile Image for Sarah (Workaday Reads).
1,073 reviews96 followers
September 6, 2013
This was an intriguing story, but it was long. Not just in length (over 400 pages), but also in feel. The story spans several years, so some length is expected, I found it to take a while to read.

As soon as I started reading the story, I was struck by how much it reminded me of The Clan of the Cave Bear. It too is set in the past and features a main character who is mostly raised by an elder pair from the tribe. There are many differences between the two stories, but it’s the similarities that stuck with me throughout the entire book.

The story is told in a way that makes the narration seem a bit distant. It is told from the first person view of “the third wind”, which is the will and strength to go on after you’ve had your first and second winds, and need an other burst of energy in order to survive. It’s a unique narrator, but it does make it hard to connect with the characters since you are seeing them through someone else’s eyes.

Overall, this was a story that was more intriguing that entertaining. There was a lot that happened over the years that the book covered, and it is impossible to talk about most of it without giving away various plot points. I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t love it like I expected to.
Profile Image for Kelly.
273 reviews181 followers
April 14, 2021
Shaman is the story of Loon, a young man who comes of age thirty-two thousand years ago, in the paleolithic era. At the beginning of the book, he is stripped naked, pushed out into the rain and told not to come back for two weeks. He is on his shaman wander. Staying alive is his most immediate goal. Returning in style seems equally important. After several mishaps, Loon manages both feats—thankfully, as it would be a rather short book if he died in the first chapter.

Loon is not entirely sure he wants to be a shaman, and throughout the handful of years that follow, he strives for adulthood with a quiet force that while presented as uncertainty is actually borne of a relentless conviction that he will be who he wants to be, regardless of what others require of him.

Of course, he grows up to be exactly who he is supposed to be. (You’ll need to read the book to figure that one out.)

His journey to manhood is dogged with the usual trials, the most important of which is the pinch of a hungry belly. The story is set in an era where food is of paramount importance. It means all. Without food, there is no life. Thorn, the shaman he is apprenticed to, drives this point home somewhere toward the end of the book (as if the preceding four hundred pages of detailed hunting and gathering hadn’t already) and this is where the simplicity of their life can seem superficial. Feeding themselves and their clan is a constant struggle.

As a novel, Shaman communicates much more than the wolf clan’s determination to feed itself, however. More than Loon’s journey. With the simple prose he is well known for, Robinson defines both the gentle slopes and sharp turns of these peoples’ rather complicated existence. Their relationships with each other, with neighbouring clans, the ‘old ones’ and with the people of the north. Their rituals and superstitions. Marriage, birth and death. Hierarchy and the role of men and women. Leadership. Moral fortitude and tolerance. It’s all here—or was there. Their days might have been largely defined by what they would eat that night, but not to the exclusion of being utterly human.

Shaman is not speculative fiction in the traditional sense, but anything written about such distant periods of history has to be speculative in a sense. Who knows if the attitudes detailed by Robinson actually held true. The interpretation of nature and ghosts. The apparent enlightenment of these people. But he did a lot of research for this book and it reads like a labour of love—and an homage to our existence. Who we are, essentially. Which is what science fiction is often about, really. Particularly when written by Kim Stanley Robinson.

I really enjoyed this book. As usual, I hit the sixty percent mark and wondered if what I read was largely pointless. (I paused at about that mark in The Years of Rice and Salt and 2312). Shaman seemed like another extended ramble, this time about the likeable Loon; exquisitely detailed, but paced just behind the curve of excitement. But, still, I couldn’t put the book down. Something compelled me to keep reading—and that is exactly the point. It’s a story and the point is in the telling, more so than the details, themselves. Here, Robinson has cast himself in the role of shaman and he knew that telling his tale in a simple and linear manner would allow his audience to complicate the experience at will as they related it to their own lives.

Shaman will be one of those books I remember reading, and the experience of reading, and I recommend it for readers of all genres.

Written for and originally posted at SFCrowsnest.
Profile Image for Liviu Szoke.
Author 28 books359 followers
October 5, 2016
Descrieri superbe, personaje foarte bine conturate (Loon, Thorn, Heather, Elga), acțiune multă, din păcate un pic prea mult realism magic ca să rezonez cu el și să reprezinte o lectură plăcută pentru mine. Robinson știe să scrie nu numai SF, ci și fantasy, ba chiar o face foarte bine, însă subiectul nu m-a pasionat suficient de mult încât să exclam: Da! Ce mai călătorie! Recenzia, aici: http://wp.me/pz4D9-2rI.
Profile Image for Roxana Chirilă.
986 reviews124 followers
November 2, 2021
I would have rated this two stars, but about halfway through things started happening and it became moderately exciting.

For some reason, as I was reading, I couldn't help but imagine "Shaman" as a fanfic on Archive of Our Own, and what its entry would look like when coming across it while browsing.

Here's the Archive entry I can't get out of my head:

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson
Fandoms: Stone Age Humanity
Rating: Mature
Archive Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Major Character Death
Categories: F/M
Pairing: Loon/Elga
Complete Work
3 Sept 2013

Tags: research pr0n, plot what plot, historically accurate (hopefully), kidnapping, Once Upon A Time in France 30,000 Years Ago, minor character death, major character death, mysticism, Freud was right about sex being everywhere, but in a non-sexy way, a pussy is a pussy, an animal pussy is a pussy, a cave is a pussy, a triangle is a pussy, everything is a pussy, survival pr0n, cannibalism, seeing ghosts, third person narration, occasional first person narration, POETRY!!!, but not great poetry

Loon is going to be the shaman of his tribe, and he doesn't like it.
I hope y'all were wondering about what your average human did every day 30,000 years ago, because here's the answer. Sorry about the plot! I didn't want to add it, but then *something* had to happen so that Loon would have an excuse to visit the polar regions. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Robert.
816 reviews44 followers
August 11, 2017
After two bull's eyes in a row (Galileo and 2113) Shaman isn't exactly a miss but it is off centre. It's a deceptively long book, being a not alarming 456p until you notice the size of the print and realise you should add about 200p to get a fair comparison with your run-of-the-mill thriller paperback. Some of the problems relate to this length, one way or another. The most fundamental being that there is no plot worth mentioning for the entire first half of the book, making it fairly slow going. There are various events, or things mentioned seemingly in passing, where one thinks, oh! I bet that turns out to be important later! And they all do, but not until at least the half-way mark, some of them not until very near the end. So the set up just goes on and on. It's not boring but there is nothing driving it.


See the complete review here:

Profile Image for Kaśyap.
271 reviews125 followers
June 24, 2015
An interesting work of speculative fiction that depicts the day to day survival in the Ice age. The novel starts with the right of passage of a young Shaman in training, Loon, who is stripped naked and has to survive a fortnight alone. As we follow Loon's journey to becoming a Shaman, the world comes alive to us through his changing perspective. Most of the story is narrated through the perspective of the main character Loon, but it shifts once a while to other perspectives like that of the wind or a Wolverine, or a ghost. This gives a kind of magical sense to the world. It gives us a sense of awe and mystery. Loon and heather's friendship with the outcaste neanderthal is my favourite part of the story.

Like his other novels, this too leaves us with a feeling of optimism. Here too the authour tries present us the enduring human qualities. He explores the important role stories and myths have played through out our history.

Unfortunately, the lack of consistent pacing and a plot that is not very compelling makes this a very meandering read.
Profile Image for Fantasy Literature.
3,226 reviews160 followers
October 18, 2013
I tell you, once upon a time kids had to walk to school barefoot. And not just barefoot, but naked. In snow and rain. Uphill. And they had to not get eaten by wolves. And be chased by Neanderthals. And eat shrooms. Or at least, they did if their school was learning how to be a shaman. And if they lived back about 30, 000 years ago. And their name was Loon, the protagonist of Kim Stanley Robinson’s wonderfully detailed Shaman.

That naked walkabout occurs at the start of Shaman and it’s a fantastic introduction to this complex culture and world that Loon inhabits. A world he has to learn more about if he is to become his small group’s storyteller/shaman/cave painter/keeper of memories as his mentor, the current shaman, Thorn, desires. Loon, on the other hand, is just a bit grumpy over the idea of all this work — he doesn’t have the head it seems to memorize Thorn’s ... Read More:
Profile Image for Loring Wirbel.
287 reviews79 followers
December 6, 2014
Those familiar with Robinson's expansive epics like 2312 or The Years of Rice and Salt, may find it tough to approach a book in which the author has deliberately aimed for minimalism. Once he decided to write a story about the Paleolithic Ice Age, Robinson could have taken the easy way out by aiming for an imaginary genealogical epic of various tribes, something like a modern Clan of the Cave Bear. But Robinson gives us a more personalized story, the description of what it may have felt like to be a rising member of a hunter-gatherer pack (too fluid to be called a tribe).

This means that pages are spent describing how the protagonist starts fires from duff, carves the perfect flint arrowhead, visits the shitting fields, collects medicinal plants, and learns sacred cave painting. A 21st-century overachiever might say nothing happens, but Robinson wants us to get into the seasonal rhythm of a people whose primary goals are building up enough food stores and body fat in summer months to survive another starving spring.

Robinson is subtle in introducing concepts of interrelationships among people who have developed a workable language, but not the social structures that lead to constant competition and wars. The occasional interactions with Neanderthals are described as encounters with the Old Ones - the Neanderthals have very little language skills beyond animal imitations, but their closeness to some natural processes are enough to make humans somewhat scared of them - while Neanderthals live in a puzzled awe of humans.

When Loon makes a trek to rescue his wife from the northers, the assumption among all the people of the southern packs is that these humans, jende, who live along the ice wall are barbarians. Yet Loon learns that they are rich in food and clothing products to last several winters, and that they have domesticated wolves. This raises a question to be repeated many times across the centuries of civilizations to come: Who are the barbarians?

The story's climax, and most exciting reading, comes in the chapters covering the escape of Loon, Elga, Thorn, and Click from the jende. Robinson is at his best in describing winter scenes and tests of human endurance that would rival the best of outdoor adventure travelogues. He does not fall into easy fictional tricks by conjuring a direct encounter with the northers, but the description of a death along the way carries its own sadness and dread that is just as great.

The book might have ended with the return to the Wolf camp, but Robinson was writing about the making of a shaman. Thus, we learn of the reconciliation with the northers, the passing of the torch from one shaman to the next, and the test of solo cave painting.

Those expecting a typical Robinson epic may be puzzled and bored at times with this book. But it is a special treat when a majestic artist attempts minimalism. There are times when enforced minimalism fails. Robinson passes the test, however, and gives us a glimpse into what daily life might have been like before the rise of agriculture and written language.
Profile Image for Sam Julian.
244 reviews60 followers
March 23, 2021
This is a really unique book. When I tell you it's a science-fiction story set 36,000 years in the past, you'll probably ask -- what are there like, ancient aliens or something?

But no. There are no spaceships or little green men. The only 'aliens' are the community of people who live a month's journey north at the edge of the ice wall. This is a science fiction story in the way Asimov defined:
"that branch of literature which deals with the reaction of human beings to changes in science and technology."
The characters in Shaman story are (mostly) anatomically modern humans, meaning they'd be genetically indistinguishable from you and me. Their brains were basically the same as ours, though they would have been a fair bit closer to the ground (they were a lot shorter on average). But their communities, their technologies, their histories were all vastly different. What would their lives have been like?

Kim Stanley Robinson explores these questions in exhaustive precision, asking questions like-- What were these people's relationships with one another like? Their culture? How did they make clothing, and shelter? How did they hunt, and break down the carcasses of animals to eat? How did they store their food? What was their relationship to the contemporary neandrethals? Why did they leave such detailed paintings on the walls of the Chauvet Caves?

If you're looking for a ripper of a read you might want to head elsewhere. Like all of Robinson's work this is a slow burn, rich in detail, economical in action. The excitement comes rarely as quick, brutal punctuations, or intensely personal moments that feel small in retrospect. I could relate to you the 'plot points' of the story in a few sentences and it'd feel simple. But in fact this is a deeply complex story about what it means to be human when everything we know about our own society is stripped away. I enjoyed the book tremendously, both for the rich characters it draws and for the careful attention Robinson has put into his research to make the world feel real and authentic.

Some spoilers notes, for those interested in discussing:
Profile Image for Simona Stoica.
Author 16 books710 followers
October 26, 2016
Recenzia completă: http://palarisme.ro/chef/carti/recenz...

„Eu sunt cel de-al treilea suflu.”

Dacă încerci să descoperi semnificaţia cuvântului „şaman”, o să întâlneşti foarte multe teorii şi definiţii, de o varietate culturală impresionantă, fără, din păcate, să ajungi la un răspuns final sau la o idee general aprobată şi acceptată. Partea bună? Îţi vei îmbogăţi considerabil „bagajul” de cunoştinţe generale, iar fascinaţia ta pentru supranatural şi misticism va beneficia de o creştere pe măsură, asta dacă nu preferi sfera scepticilor, care preferă siguranţa realităţii şi a ştiinţei, ignorând frumuseţea nemărginită a ficţiunii.

Îmi planificasem să citesc trilogia Marte de Kim Stanley Robinson la finalul verii, dar cum lista mea de „to-read” s-a dublat în ultimele optsprezece luni, iar eu mi-am schimbat alegerile de lectură de pe o zi pe alta, a rămas, din păcate, abandonată în bibliotecă, aşteptând o nouă şansă din partea mea (chiar mă simt vinovată când uit de o serie sau o amân). Luna trecută, am primit de la editura Nemira un colet surpriză, cu multe romane pe care abia aşteptam să le devorez, printre care şi Şaman, pe care voiam neapărat să-l citesc, după ce mi-au atras atenţia coperta şi sinopsisul.

Am tras de timp, recunosc, până să mă încumet să scriu recenzia. Nu pentru că nu mi-a plăcut cartea sau pentru că mi-a fost greu să o citesc, dar, de fiecare dată când încercam să îmi înşir gândurile despre ea, mă blocam, amintindu-mi de câteva scene controversate, care m-au împiedicat să mă ataşez de personaje sau să pot interacţiona cu ei, în limita cuvintelor oferite de autor.
Profile Image for Jon Stout.
277 reviews56 followers
October 7, 2013
The Ice Age people that Kim Stanley Robinson describes from 30,000 years ago have as much common sense and wonder as any modern adventurer. While the narrative of this Ice Age novel seems calmer and less mind-boggling than Robinson’s other novels, it portrays the humans as acting essentially the same as his future explorers of Mars, loving an adventure and seeking the meaning of it all.

There are no science fiction gimmicks, except for the use of the Chauvet Pont d’Arc Cave in France, a real cave with remarkable cave paintings. Much of the book’s plot revolves around the apprentice shaman’s learning how to paint and how to instill life into the seemingly magical paintings. The rest of the novel is concerned with the struggle to survive and a kidnapping by a northern tribe. But the tone is not one of oppressive misery. Like all of Robinson’s books, this adventure reveals a basic optimism and a love of nature which seem very California and very appealing.

With a feminist streak, and in other ways, the book seems politically correct. Rather than the Neanderthals’ being threatened or rendered extinct, one Neanderthal is a valued friend and an important resource to the main characters. The story suggests that his contributions live on in the human beings, just as the shaman passes on his legacy in the cave paintings. All in all, the book is as buoyantly optimistic and as exciting as all of Robinson’s novels, revealing a human nature that is the same in the distant past as in the distant future.
50 reviews11 followers
April 26, 2014
I was torn on this one. The world in which this book is set is meticulously built and by the end the reader feels as though he has really gotten to know it. I especially liked the elements of comparative mythology that are woven throughout the book. Loon's tribe has it's own flood myth. There is even a story that resembles the Greek myth of the Minotaur. So why the one star review then?

Because the things that this book gets right are also ultimately the things that work against it. The meticulous world building comes at the expense of plot and pacing. The daily life and struggles of Loon's tribe are described in great detail. The only problem was that great detail did not contribute to moving the plot forward. In fact amount of plot could have been conveyed In a few really interesting short stories. Christopher Buckley once joked that he felt Tom Clancey's books went right from his computer to the printing press with no stops at the editor. That is also the feeling I got with this book.

Profile Image for Jason.
1,179 reviews256 followers
December 4, 2013
3.5 Stars

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson is an incredibly rich and rewarding reading experience about growing up during the ice age that moves along at a glacial pace. This book centers on growing up during a time where nature ruled our world. Survival is a daily struggle and everyone and everything eats one another.

Loon is an interesting protagonist that I enjoyed more during the first parts of the book than the latter. This is historical fiction at its best. If that is your cup of tea then you will sure to find something to like in this story.

Kim Stanley Robinson is a fantastic writer and I am a big fan. This book is not one that I would normally read, but for fans of the genre it is really great.

Profile Image for Miriam Cihodariu.
577 reviews116 followers
November 16, 2021
So much fun! I love reading prehistoric fiction (and non-fiction books about those times) and this one did not disappoint. I read it immediately after finishing with Sue Harrison's Storyteller trilogy (Song of the River is the first one in that series and I recommend it as well).

Yes, it may seem a bit unrealistic at times (with the tribes resolving conflicts mostly through diplomacy, or some concepts which are expressed in too modern terms (babysitter), etc, as some reviewers pointed out.

That doesn't take away any of the book's quality of conveying the struggle of daily life and labor in a captivating way. The beliefs, the practical solutions to everyday problems, the little innovations that make tools more effective - I found all these and more very entertaining and plausible.
Profile Image for Zach.
251 reviews94 followers
February 2, 2014
Shaman is a serious examination of what life was like for our distant ancestors of around 30,000 years ago, living in small, semi-nomadic groups and getting most of their calories from hunting migratory game. Robinson approaches the subject with the same rigor he brings to his science fiction work, and this short novel has all the depth of character found in his other novels. I didn't much care for The Years of Rice and Salt, which is Robinson's other foray into historical speculative fiction, but having a pre-historical setting apparently freed him of his tendency to get bogged down in political minutiae. Instead, we're treated to the gripping coming of age story of Loon, a 12 year old hunter gatherer, as he becomes a full member of his pack of people. His journey is as affecting as it is fascinating.

Loon is being trained as a shaman by the pack's current one, Thorn, and is also instructed by the pack's herb woman, Heather. Thorn and Heather represent two sides of the human yearning for knowledge. As a shaman, Thorn is preoccupied with the big questions: why are we here, what happens when we die, etc. Heather, meanwhile, is the kind of boilerplate engineer / scientist archetype you can expect to encounter in a Robinson novel. She cares about answering practical questions that can be used concretely to improve the tribe's life: what herbs have medical effects, which wood is best for starting fires, how can a woman be delivered safely through childbirth. Loon's sensibility is pulled in both directions -- he loves the big spiritual world and evocative cave paintings Thorn shows him, while also appreciating Heather's practical improvements to daily processes. And in a pre-writing era, Thorn and Heather both have an urgency to the instruction they provide Loon: anything they aren't able to pass onto him before they die is basically lost forever, or until another generation learns it again from scratch. This is the fundamental tragedy of pre-literary civilization to a science-minded individual like Robinson. And we know from archaeological records that it was a lived truth for early people. For example, there's good evidence that Australian aboriginals discovered and lost the technology for bows and arrows at least 3 times before European contact.

This is a very adult treatment of the subject material, and Robinson doesn't pull any punches. Some readers might be shocked or disgusted when, e.g. Loon eats some hallucinogenic mushrooms, masturbates into the soil, then eats his semen mixed with dirt as part of a spiritual journey. Or, when Loon and a female pack member, both 12 years old, run off into the bushes to get each other off by rubbing each other's genitals. These scenes aren't graphic per se, just matter of fact, and they definitely succeed in relaying the sensibilities of a culture for whom sex was no big mystery or taboo, just as much a part of life as the menstruation hut the pack's women excuse themselves to once a moon. Everywhere you look in the pack's art, culture and mythos you find spurts and kolbys, their two rather charming words for the genitals.

Most of the novel is what might, from another author or with a less rigorous style, be called an adventure tale. Loon certainly experiences his fair share of adventure, and survival is his and his pack's main objective for much of the narrative. Probably the most speculative aspect of the novel is the pack's interaction with remnant Neanderthals, who they call old ones. We know modern man had these interactions, and even interbred with Neanderthals to the extent that roughly 2.5% of our DNA comes from them, but what we know about the Neanderthals' culture is pretty limited. In Shaman, their interaction with modern humans is infrequent, often hostile, and mysterious to both sides of the encounter. It's not a major part of the story, but it's very interesting when it comes up.

Shaman is a rare treat, something I would love to see more of from science fiction authors. In many ways, you can see the shape of Shaman presaged by Robinson's earlier novels. More than any other science fiction author I have read, Robinson is fascinated with the question of what makes us human, about how our evolutionary and cultural heritage shaped us into what we are today. You can see this in all his novels, but especially in the "Science in the Capitol" trilogy beginning with Forty Signs of Rain, with his protagonist who becomes obsessed with living an ancient lifestyle in the modern world. He tried a more direct answer first with The Years of Rice and Salt, and there his emphasis was with culture, beginning in the middle ages. Shaman attempts an answer much closer to the evolutionary side of things, which culture as we know it still just primitive gestures, practices and knowledge so easily lost between generations. I found it much more satisfying than The Years of Rice and Salt, and I expect most science fiction fans will as well.
Profile Image for Scot Parker.
268 reviews50 followers
February 28, 2020
My impression after reading this was that Robinson really wanted to write up a description of life in the paleolithic and decided to couch it in a bit of a story for publishability; the result is mostly description, not much story. It wasn't bad, it was fairly interesting, but I'd have preferred a bit more of a story.
Profile Image for Ian Miller.
Author 15 books92 followers
November 1, 2013
This book is a sort of docudrama of life in the upper Palaeolithic, say about 30,000 years ago. The characters are named after animals, or plants, or, in the case of the old shaman (Thorn) parts of plants. This gave me one disconcerting moment, where we have Cat up a tree watching. Sinister? Well, no. It is actually a cat thinking human thoughts.

The story starts with the young Loon going on a wander. This involves leaving the tribe with nothing (including clothes) and having to survive for a fortnight. We follow him making fire, making clothes, hunting, gathering food, etc, and this is basically a microcosm of the rest of the book. There is a bit of an adventure in the second half but even this is mainly an outline of what Robinson thinks life in the upper Palaeolithic was like. I found this to be a bit silly in detail. The heroes have a long journey, and when they get home, they have run out of their food and they are nearly starved. Hold on! They are hunter gatherers. Those chasing them start of with wolves on leashes to track them. Again, hold on! Nobody puts a grey wolf on a leash, and even if they succeeded, the wolf will go after its food.

There is a sort of innocence amongst all the characters: a sort of part of the garden of Eden transferred to the freezer. Robinson has done a lot of research, and what he describes seems authentic, however the way people behaved is perforce imaginary. And, of course, there is the curse of new discoveries. Robinson has the cave paintings done by male shamans, but recent evidence has indicated that the bulk of the hands are those of women, so it is most likely that many of the other paintings were also done by women.

The story ends with the death of Thorn and Loon becoming the new shaman, and it is Loon that paints four horses. Robinson presumably intends this to be the very famous "four horses" painting, which places the action in Chauvet, in south east France. This makes walking north west to the sea a rather long journey, but apart from such considerations, I found this a genuinely interesting and enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Paul.
2,113 reviews
February 13, 2014
Having made his mark in science fiction Robinson is now writing historical fiction. I have read Galileo's Dream before, which i really enjoyed, so was looking forward to this one.

This story is set in Palaeolithic times, when the glaciers set the northern boundary and is centred around a character called Loon, a 12 year old, learning to be a Shaman, and his small tribe of twenty of so people. At the very beginning he is set off on his 'wander' where he is released naked and has to rely on his training an intuition to survive for a number of days; part of the training of becoming a Shaman. He survives, and his training progresses.

At a meeting of tribes he meets with girl, who returns with him to his tribe where they marry. At the next gathering she is snatched back by her tribe and Loon follows. He is captured and is taken back to be used sa a slave. His mentor Thorn decides to try a rescue of Loon and Hega from the tribe.

Overall the story isn't too bad. It has reasonably well formed characters and moderate plot development. Robinson manages to convey really well just how tough it was for humans then, and just how close to starvation that they were on a regular basis. Where the book failed for me was the dialogue. Whilst humans have been capable of complex communication for thousands of years it seems like the dialogue was from the middle ages at times. Closer to 2.5 stars; and didn't take long to read.
Profile Image for Antonio Ceté.
316 reviews47 followers
November 22, 2017
Iba esperando una cosa más o menos de aventuras y me encontré con Marte Edad Glacial. Pero en la Tierra. Vamos, que el estilo es el de KSR: muchas ideas muy buenas desarrolladas con cuidado y poca acción trepidante. Un poco cuesta arriba se me ha hecho.
Profile Image for Bart.
376 reviews85 followers
February 25, 2018

Again, linear and simple doesn't mean bereft of content. There are insights about the nature of time, the importance of mothers & women, the verbal nature of peace. Shaman is a Bildungsroman that's just as much a story about discovering a world that doesn't exist anymore, as it is about discovering our present-day selves.

It's apt that Loon, the main character, starts the story naked, alone and without any tools. That first part not only shows the brutal nature of the conditions then, and the ingenuity of the human mind, it also serves as a metaphor for us readers, ready to embark into a world which we know nothing about, and in which we would not be able to survive more than a few days.

In the end, it turns out this novel is also about a pragmatic morality and the guilt that may come with that. Still, the Ice Age people deal with things - as the hand that was dealt to them was clear and simple indeed. It might be a cliché, but we could all learn from that.


Please read the full review - 2300 words - on Weighing A Pig
Profile Image for Iset.
665 reviews472 followers
September 20, 2016
I’m really in two minds about this book. It’s obvious that the writing is skilled, in a technical sense. Indeed, it’s difficult to find fault with it. But I felt it was lacking from a story-telling point of view.

First thing’s first, there were some minor irritations that just rubbed be up the wrong way through the whole book. The main character’s name being Loon confused me immediately and wasn’t explained until well into the book. It seemed like a really unlikable name for a character, and I had trouble connecting with him because for most of the early chapters I was wondering if he was mad. I should explain that here in Britain “loon” is short for “lunatic”, whilst in America it is an alternative name for a diver bird, which we don’t use here at all. This was perhaps just unfortunate, but there were other confusing things in the story. Names for animals and objects were sometimes completely made up, with no explanation of what they were, and even Google failing to elucidate the matter – what is an “elg” anyway? Throughout Loon’s solitary wander in the first part of the story, he’s pretty obsessively thinking about sex – not an objection in and of itself, but I just hated the made up words used to stand in for other things – “kolby”, “spurtprong”… Really? It seemed so fatuous and purple prose, I cringed. Loon behaves in a manner that gave me the impression he was in his mid to late teens through the book, but after his wander a character says that he’s twelve, and just a couple of months later he gets married and becomes a father. I know the palaeolithic isn’t the present, but that was pretty squicky to be honest, and it seemed so out of character with his manner and behaviour in the story which seemed older. Another really weird thing is that the author used dashes to indicate dialogue, not quotation marks, which made the difference between dialogue and narrative actually very confusing consistently throughout the book and was not a good technical choice at all. I was hoping that some of this would be clarified in an author’s note at the end elucidating certain authorial choices and discussing the historical evidence that inspired the story, but there wasn’t one.

So let me turn to the story. I was quite interested and engaged during the first section of the story, where Loon is sent out to wander the wilderness alone as some sort of coming of age rite. There was survival action aplenty, and because he was totally alone and the environs were against him, it made for pretty tense and gripping stuff. However, I felt that it lost steam after that. Loon and his pack go about their lives as normal, and whilst interesting from a background and setting point of view, that doesn’t make a plot. Then Loon Whoa! That’s pretty fast! I had trouble buying into this, it was so sudden. Life continues as normal for a good while after and I’m wondering when the plot will show up. Then Okay, so I was pleased that the plot finally showed up, but I wasn’t exactly excited by it. The chase survival plot is very well-worn in the Stone Age fiction genre. Savage Eden did it, The Uprights did it, and much more high profile films Quest for Fire and 10,000 BC did it. I could have got on board with it, if I cared about the characters. But I didn’t. The secondary characters felt barely sketched to me, and as for Loon, I just had no sense of his struggles and his fears, his hopes and dreams, his relatable thoughts, to feel close to him in any way. I just didn’t feel compelled to root for him. I felt disappointingly detached the whole way through.

And that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the book. It wasn’t that it was bad – although there were a couple of irritating niggles – I just felt disengaged because there didn’t seem to be much of a plot for long stretches, and when it did show up it was a trope and one in which I had no real incentive to care about the characters. I just felt disconnected from most of the book.

5 out of 10.
Profile Image for Johan Haneveld.
Author 80 books70 followers
April 28, 2019
9 Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my favourite authors, so I bought this book pretty soon after it was published. Still, I waited up till now to read it. Maybe because it isn't science fiction? But I'm glad I dove into it now. And of course it's science fiction in a way: Robinson uses up to date science about our origins and what life must have been like 35.000 years ago. He combines that with a great sense of the landscape and the environment and how harsh survival in it can sometimes be. Then he writes an honest but at the end hopeful tale of human thriving in equilibrium with the earth, using clear but evocative language. I was absorbed by the story of Loon, a boy in training to be a shaman, who learns to accept his place in life and takes up the mantle of his master Thorn. The story takes place in the Ardeche in France, a region I visited on vacation with my parents, which helped me imagine the surroundings. It tells the story of the cave paintings of the Chauvet-cave. The oldest cave paintings in Europe. Looking at the stories and pictures of this cave before reading will add a layer of meaning to the story, and will help you see these paintings as real art - the work of real, complex people that observed their environment with the eye of real artists. The book will also help dispell lingering ideas of primitive man as 'cave people', walking around in animal skins clubbing people on the head. These people have their own traditions, knowledge of their environment and technology. Severel societies are shown, including one with captive wolves. Survival is hard, that much is clear, the struggle to have enough to survive the winter and spring shown in its uggliness, but also the beauty of feasts and rituals. And love and friendship. This novel underscores the importance of Robinson as a speculative author, using his gifts for extrapolation not only to look at our future as a people (he has a larger view than the hero as an individual of old school SF, looking more at our life together, as a society or civilisation) but also at the past that got us where we are now. I think in this book he suggests that the past few centuries we left some important truths behind and if we want to survive on this planet long term we would do well to remember them: the way to live with one another responsibly and the way to live with our brothers and sisters, the animals and nature itself.
Profile Image for Burgoo.
437 reviews6 followers
September 15, 2013
If I were to try to create some kind of thematic key to the many books of Kim Stanley Robinson, nature would be high on the list. He’s always been fascinated with the natural world, whether it is the artificial landscape of an orbiting habitat, the wonders of other planets in our solar system, or the Earth itself. Shaman gives him a chance to explore the wonders of prehistoric Earth.

The plot itself is slight. Shaman is a coming of age story for Loon, a shaman’s apprentice during the Ice Age. But the plot is just a frame work for Robinson’s real concern: what was life like during the Ice Age?

With that in mind, Robinson crafts an immersive world, where we are following Loon as he goes through the rhythms of life. Loon’s world is as terrifying as it is wonderful. For every spectacular vista or view, there are dangerous predators or Neanderthals.

This immersive experience is the real draw here. The lack of a propulsive story means that the book doesn’t move quickly. Just as Loon lives to rhythms that are slower than the modern world, so to this book demands a slower read that simply is content to exist in the past that Robinson has crafted. This isn’t an experience that will appeal to all readers. But for those that have felt the lure of the Wild, this is an unforgettable experience.
Profile Image for Lachinchon.
117 reviews1 follower
September 21, 2013
An average rating for an average book. It starts strong with the "wander" of its protagonist, a late (Upper) paleolithic adolescent boy named Loon, a right of passage in which the young man must spend a fortnight in the wilderness, literally naked and alone. Upon his return to his clan, the book drops into neutral and never changes gear. I would compare it to driving across Nebraska with cruise control set five miles below the speed limit. Everything is conveyed too dispassionately. The only character I could work up any emotion for was the "old one" (presumably a neanderthal), whose entire vocabulary consists of "roop roop" and "tank oo". The use of modern profanities and lengthy adolescent sexual reveries I found a bit jarring. The setting is a late glacial period in southwestern Europe, possibly at Lascaux, although I could not match the geographical descriptions and rough distances to a contemporary map; I understand that the road signs may have changed somewhat in the last 30,000 years.
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