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Monday, March 17, 2014

Kim Stanley Robinson: Growing Up During The Ice Age

In the first section of his novel Shaman, Kim Stanley Robinson introduces us to Loon, a boy growing up during the Ice Age. After his parents' death, Loon was taken in by Thorn, the local shaman.  One cold, rainy night, Thorn takes Loon up a hill, strips him of his clothes, tools, and everything the pack has given him, and pushes Loon off into the darkness.  

Loon's most pressing need is to make fire.  He searches for the necessities, such as duff, punk, and the right kinds of wood.  While he has built many fires, tonight no one stands by to guide or correct him. He is cold and wet…and he fails. So he huddles under trees, dances and shouts to keep warm, and in this way passes the first night of his trial of manhood.

The next morning, he builds a trap in a nearby stream. He gets a fire going. He uses a sharp rock to cut long, thin strips of wood. The latter he weaves together, cuts the crosshatched wood into shapes, and fashions garments for himself. Then he returns to the river, tosses the fish in his trap onto the bank, and cooks them over the fire he has carefully tended while making his own clothes.

Loon's trial of manhood will last two weeks.  His mandate is not merely exist, but to return and regale the pack with his adventures. His next goal is to hunt for animals, so he can strengthen himself with meat, use its bones to forge tools, and turn its hide into warmer, more durable garments.  But he is not the only hunter in this area. He must beware predatory animals and other tribesmen while hunting, skinning prey, traveling by day, and sleeping at night.  An open area under trees, with a fire that can be seen miles away, and with nothing to stop the wind from carrying his scent, can serve as but a temporary home. 

As always, Kim Stanley Robinson writes with beauty and style. While he weaves action with memory and dreams, we learn about this boy who must prove himself a man. Loon's Ice Age adventures remind me how ignorant I am of the necessities of survival. Yet, as a modern man, Loon's challenge is also my own.  To use my knowledge, experience, and the tools at my disposal to not just survive, but to thrive.  

To have adventures.

Dragon Dave

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