Sunday, September 23, 2018

Time of the Great Freeze - Robert Silverberg

Jim hoisted himself over the rim of the tunnel mouth, stepped into the new world, and fought back a surge of panic as he saw the magnitude of it all. Even at night, even by moonlight, it was possible to see how the flat ice-sheet spread out to the horizon. It was a numbing, breathtaking sight for anyone who had spent his whole life in tunnels hardly higher than his head. 

ACE Books, August 1980

I read this book while the temperatures outside were pushing the 110 degree mark. The acceptance of global warming, or at least, climate change has most of us wondering what happens to a planet that heats up. This book, written in 1963, takes a look at the flip-side of that theory and sees the world under another ice-age.

I picked this up a couple years ago along with several other science fiction novels by Silverberg. I've come late to the game in appreciating Robert Silverberg's science fiction novels. I don't know how I didn't read his books when I was in my teens and enjoying Asimov and Clarke and others. This book would have been a favorite had I read it as a kid. It was written for the "juvenile" market at the time of its publication, in the days before "young adult" shelves filled bookstores, but I think it's enjoyable at any age. It's a pure adventure story and with nice dollops of science and sociology along the way.

It's a simple plot, the best kind it seems, about a young man named Jim Barnes who, along with a team of explorers lead by his father Dr. Raymond Barnes leave New York to reach London during what they believe is the beginning of a long thaw after a several hundred-years-long ice age. The year is 2650 and New York is now completely underground, beneath miles of ice. After a few hundred years it has become completely isolated, existing on an inertia that its leaders have no desire to see interrupted. After making radio contact with London, Dr. Barnes and his associates believe that the time has come for the nations to communicate with each other once again. Unfortunately, he and his team are arrested and tried for conspiracy for their troubles. The City Council, a group of old men holding on to their power (sound familiar?) decide that, instead of giving Barnes and his team any publicity for their theories, they be sentenced to exile. This leaves our friends no choice but to try and make it across the ice to London, alone.

It's an arduous trek, to say the least, and not everyone will make it through alive. For a "young adult" novel of the time, it's surprisingly brutal and violent in places. I don't think I ever remember anyone dying in a Tom Swift or Hardy Boys book. That's not the case here. Death can strike at any moment as our friends travel in the harsh elements, encountering nomadic tribes and deadly beasts along the way. And to make their plight even more grim, their point of contact in London seems less than enthusiastic that our team of Americans complete their journey.

I thought this was a terrific book for what it is, a pure adventure/science fiction story. It's probably a touch old fashioned however, in that this is definitely a "no chicks allowed" kind of party. But for a couple of hours reading in the dog days of summer, it did nicely.


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