A Coming Of Age Story For The (Ice) Ages

The novel Shaman, by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson is a coming of age novel set in the ice age. Reviewer Alan Cheuse says it is the latest to take up the question of what it was like to live 30,000 years ago on the cusp of change from Neanderthal to Cro-Magnon dominance of the human world.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A new novel explores life on Earth tens of thousands of years ago. It's called "Shaman" by science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson. Our reviewer, Alan Cheuse, says it's worthy of a spot on the bookshelf between "The Inheritors" and "The Clan Of The Cave Bear."

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: Robinson has chosen a broad and effective means for including everything that he knows and everything he imagines about the world of 30,000 B.C. The tried and true narrative form we think of as the novel of education. An adolescent, Robinson calls him Loon, has been orphaned and taken under the wing of his pack's shaman, Thorn, and Thorn's wife.

As the novel begins, Loon sets out into the great forest on an initiation resembling an aboriginal walkabout. These people think of it as a wander. He's naked without means for making fire and weaponless for a good number of wintry days. Loon survives and so does the novel. The story told to us by a mysterious narrator who announces his, her, its presence as the Third Wind.

Loon comes of age as a hunter and a man. He makes his kills and takes a wife and the endless round of days and seasons takes on a palpable urgency when a party of Northers, a separate people who live mostly in snow and ice and have trained wolves to help them track and hunt, kidnap Loon's wife.

Robinson keeps the stylization of the language to a minimum in this novel, without stooping too low, so that the novel can break free of the page and linger in the mind, which is what happened to me, something that's really never happened before. For several nights, while in the reading of this novel, I dreamed I lived in it. The book just took me over and there I was, running in the same pack as Loon, wandering along streams and rivers, through forests and over hills in an old state of mind.

SIEGEL: Alan Cheuse, reviewing Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel "Shaman."

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