Thursday, 28 August 2008

‘The Ice Schooner’ – Michael Moorcock (Sphere Books)

If you were making a list of prolific sci-fi/fantasy writers then Michael Moorcock would have to be on there somewhere, maybe not right at the top but surely not that far off either. I ran a few Questions past Michael Moorcock (a while ago now) and he said that it used to take him three days to write a book working from nine until six with an hour off for lunch.
I’m not sure exactly how long it took Moorcock to write ‘The Ice Schooner’ but it was first published in 1969 which puts it firmly in the ‘two or three days to write’ category. It’s also only one hundred and fifty seven pages long which means that it took me as long to read it as it did for Moorcock to write. It’s not bad either...

A new Ice Age covers an Earth of the distant future, an earth where men pilot mighty ice schooners and hunt down the slowly dwindling race of land whales. It is a world where time is running out for its lonely inhabitants, or is it? Schooner captain Konrad Arflane’s life takes an unexpected turn when he accepts a commission to seek out the fabled and lost city of New York. His journey across the ice will show him a much wider world and him to confront the validity of his own beliefs...

For a book that is only a hundred and fifty seven pages long, Moorcock is certainly able to pack a lot in and give the reader value for money. As well as a stirring nautical tale, with swashbuckling bits and a sultry heroine, the reader also gets not only an in depth look at the philosophy of our hero but also a look at the philosophy of an entire race that is having to face up to the possibility of it’s own extinction. It is a hard life and a bleak time in which to live and this shows in the stoic and matter of fact nature of the characters involved.

When Konrad Arflane found himself without a ship to command, he left the city-crevasse of Brershill and set off on skis across the great ice plateau; he went with the intention of deciding whether he should live or die.

There are no half measures here! In a world approaching its end, choices really do boil down to either life or death. By the end of ‘The Ice Schooner’ a note of optimism is introduced and the focus shifts onto a choice between looking to the future and living in the past. It is in the nature of Moorcock’s doomed heroes that this choice is never straightforward and Arflane lives up to type. I wasn’t sure that this choice was in keeping with how Arflane had developed over the course of the book, especially when you realise how much he had changed by that point. It still made for a suitably sombre ending though with Moorcock seeming to plump for the ‘embrace the future’ option and showing the only consequence for those who cannot make this decision. The world, it seems, will always move on regardless of the choices we make about how to live our lives.

The ice and cold get into everything and leaves the reader in no doubt as to the conditions prevalent in the novel. Moorcock keeps things fairly simple in terms of scene setting with only the odd encounter with mutant barbarians, and the pay off at the end of the book, to remind us that this is science fiction. This understated approach worked for me though, probably because I’m a pretty big fan of the whole ‘post apocalyptic’ thing.

The only thing that didn’t sit so well with me was that it felt like Moorcock crammed so much into such a short space that he didn’t leave himself for a convincing pay off at the end. After all the trials that Konrad, and his crew, goes through it’s all dealt with in four or five pages and plays a definite second fiddle to what happens at the very end. It felt a bit rushed and I would almost have rather seen the characters die at the last hurdle than have them stumble through something that felt ever so slightly anti-climatic.

Despite this, ‘The Ice Schooner’ is an engaging read that kept me turning the pages. It’s certainly worth a look if you want to read something by Moorcock that doesn’t draw so heavily on his multi-verse mythos. My copy came from a second hand book shop but ‘The Ice Schooner’ can also be found as a part of Orion Books ‘Eternal Champion’ collection (I can't remember which though).

Eight out of Ten

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