Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson

Read: 13 February, 2014

Shaman starts off quite slowly, and continues on in a very “slice of life” sort of way. I was about halfway through when a friend asked me what it was about, and I had no idea how to answer. As I put it then, I felt that Robinson was establishing the characters and the setting, but the actual plot hadn’t begun yet. I suppose that’s true, there is a Big Thing that takes up much of the second half of the novel, but I think it would be more accurate to say that the plot is simply very subtle and very slow.

The tone was quite different from Auel’s Earth’s Children series. While Auel writes of all the developments in human societies (often thanks to Ayla’s many inventions), Shaman is more aware of how tenuous knowledge can be in pre-literate societies. One untimely death, one forgetful apprentice, and hard-won knowledge can be lost forever – or at least until it’s rediscovered.

The same is true of life. In Earth’s Children, the people lived happily off the land. There were occasional floods, earthquakes, or other disasters, but generally the people were well-fed and established. This is quite different from the view in Shaman where the seasons can be identified by how starved individuals look, and every spring comes with the possibility of death.

Where both agreed – and I quite liked this – was in how problems could be solved. A trouble-maker can’t just be gotten rid of, raiders can’t just be slaughtered. Rather, people have to find ways to work together, to get around their differences and appease hurt feelings.

I really enjoyed Shaman, and it’s clear that Robinson is a very strong writer. I can see why someone who needs Stuff to be happening might feel bored, but I found that my interest was held through the many lulls by my interest in the writing.

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