One of my favorite Sci-Fi books as a teenager was Barjavel’s La Nuit des Temps, translated in English as The Ice People, a reference to the two human beings, millions of years old and yet technologically advanced, found cryogenically preserved deep in the Antarctic ice. It is a simple and somewhat superficial, yet also beautiful, tale of love lost, idealism and global consciousness…..and it flows like a blockbuster, which always gave me the feeling that i would one day see it on the silver screen.
Maggie Gee’s Ice People, the story of a man fighting to keep his family together while the world is falling apart, is a deeper and richer novel than Barjavel’s. And while La Nuit des Temps does have a slight underlying dystopic feel to it, Gee’s novel on the other hand is bleak to the core. It is a slow downward spiral towards a near future without sun, warmth and hope, a future filled with savagery, mistrust between the sexes, chaos and technology gone wrong. But Gee’s prose and wit ensure that the bleakness never feels cheap or forced and that the storyline flows easily and rivetingly to the bitter end.
The Ice People has been compared to Orwell’s 1984 and to Huxley’s Brave New World due to the intensity and realism of its dystopic element and to the strength of Gee’s writing. And Gee, who was the first female Chair of the Royal Society of Literature, is certainly worthy of such comparisons. But her work also brings to mind the style and social concerns of another great contemporary female writer of dystopias: Margaret Atwood. Both have a predilection for speculative fiction based on current societal and technological trends and concerns and both go about it in an unrepentant manner. And both are fantastic writers.
Despite some technological naivety, the Ice People is a sad and beautiful novel whose message will linger in your mind long after the last page has been turned.