Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thoughts on Ice Trilogy

Ice Trilogy is not a book that a lot of people are going to read, but typically, it's one they should.

Basically, inspired by the continuing intrigue over the Tunguska impact in 1908, Vladimir Sorokin weaves a tale about 23,000 individuals involved in a "Brotherhood of Light," who speak with the heart and are reincarnations of the spark of creation.  That's what's on the surface.  The subtext is all about individuals who isolate themselves from the mainstream and convince themselves that they are the only people who matter.

Basically an allegory fundamentalists.

It's no surprise that Sorokin would be inspired to write something like this.  The writer and the perspective are Russian, and throughout the three volumes collected in Ice Trilogy, Russian political history over the past hundred years is explored in all its tumult.  It's another layer of the story, and as such is a worthy addition to the Russian literary canon established during the 19th century.

It's shocking how easily and quickly the Brotherhood loses its humanity.  All other humans begin to be referred to as "meat machines," devoid of purpose and value (until those who, many years after the Brotherhood movement has developed, try to figure out what's going on are forced into servitude for the group), merely the biggest sign of corruption on Earth, the one flaw in all the cosmos.  Since the Brotherhood is so consumed with its mission of awakening each of the 23,000, it thinks nothing of actively participating in all the evil acts (except eating meat and processed foods) that it condemns in the rest of humanity, an irony that never occurs to any of them.

Each member of the brotherhood is blond-haired and blue-eyed.  You can imagine what this means during WWII.  Germany becomes known as the Country of Order, versus Russia as the Country of Ice.  Ice is the main unifying factor for everything that happens in the story, the stuff that's found in the Tunguska impact zone and used to awaken members of the Brotherhood, processed into Ice hammers and pounded on chests until the heart murmurs its true name (almost uniformly short, guttural ones).  Sometimes locating potential Brothers (and Sisters) isn't so easy, because those who are capable of spotting prospects are extremely limited.  That means that Ice hammers can sometimes be used rather indiscriminately, which leaves dead bodies and living victims in the wake of the Brotherhood's grand quest.

The first volume, Bro, was written and published after the second, Ice.  Ice is much like the third and concluding volume, 23,000, portraying both people who know exactly what's going on and those who struggle with it.  Bro (named after the first of the awakened) explains the origins of the Brotherhood.

Sorokin always seems to understand when his narrative needs a fresh spin, and his perspective on the proceedings is considerable.  The amount of inhumanity is striking, and is the one element that most readers seem to have taken from it, but as I've said, the author is not unaware of what he's accomplished.  If he weren't, he wouldn't bother with all the struggling, all the ironies.  There's no single central character, and very few of them receive more than cursory arcs.  Most of them are defined by how they're affected by the Brotherhood, both members and ordinary humans.

Before too long, you'll find yourself wondering if Sorokin is sincere in the narrative about the ultimate fate of the Brotherhood, and its belief about what happens when they're all back together.  Is this, after all, just a Heaven's Gate cult?  There was a rash of that going on at the turn of the millennium.  One might consider the entire 20th century one vast nervous waltz, and Ice Trilogy is about that, too.

It's also simply a fantastic read.

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