No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Friday, January 01, 1999

Antarctica -- Kim Stanley Robinson

I enjoyed this much more when reading it for pleasure than I did while trying to decide whether it was SF for the Arthur C Clarke Awards. (It's set in future, after expiry of Antarctic treaty, but I am not sure this counts).

Robinson certainly knows his stuff: he has clearly read all the books, and is not ashamed to show it. He also manages to blend in several of his recurring themes (high-tech primitivism, living off the land 'with all that technology can do to help: ecological terrorism: a romance of opposites that parallels the political views in opposition …) Most impressively, at least to me this year, he writes about feng shui without sounding precious.

Exploration, science, neither really mattered to Shackleton: what mattered was living in Antarctica. There he had first experienced that being-in-the-world which is our fundamental reality, our one true home: and rather than try to find that experience also in the wilderness that is England, he kept returning south …Only this moment, always. We never get to change the past. We never get to know the future. No reason to wish for one place rather than another; no reason to say I wish I were home, or I wish I were in an exotic new place that is not my home. They will all be the same as this place. Here the experience of existing comes clear. This world is our body.

The narrator of that passage is Ta Shu, a Chinese vid-caster who walks around recording his thoughts and what he sees for a massive audience back home. Once the adventure is over, one of the other characters finds himself watching a badly-translated broadcast:

In a vision we share a story. Lemon said stories are false solutions to real problems. Lamb added corollary, that stories from other planets hence must be false solutions to false problems. What then have we done together? … Take a walk outside in the open air. Wherever you find yourself on the face of this planet, it is a good place. Breathe deeply the breath of the world. Look at the sky over our heads all together. Feel yourself walking: this too is thought. Feel the way you are animal, breathing in the spirit wind. If our time together gives you no more than this walk, then still it has done well.

Robinson also manages another meditation on Beethoven's music ('melodies so stuffed with meaning that they were landscapes in themselves'), which is pretty good since apparently the Hammerklavier sonata contains the keys to life, the universe and everything (according to Kim Stanley Robinson's earlier novel, The Memory of Whiteness). Smart chap, that Beethoven.


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