the Ice by Laura
Tor Hardcover: ISBN
0312869037 PubDate Aug 2002
Review by Victoria McManus
544 pages List price
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Burning the Ice is a sequel to Laura J. Mixon’s 1998 novel Proxies,
set many years later. Descendents of colonists who left Earth
during the time of the previous novel are trying to terraform an icy
world ironically named Brimstone while struggling with limited supplies
and harsh conditions. Colonists spend most of their time wearing
“livesuits” to protect them from their environment as well as allow
for virtual interaction and retrieval of information. They’ve
built their own small forest, mostly of bamboo, and have a small, hardy
Earth ecosystem of grasses and flowers as well as animals, plus
extensive hydroponics to support themselves at a subsistence level.
Mixon has created an intricate social structure for the humans on
Brimstone, all of whom are cloned from a limited set of founders.
Clones are made, for the most part, in male/female pairs, occasionally
in triplets of single sex or otherwise, so each person has his or her
vat mate/s for support and identical sets, staggered in age, to form a
social unit. Manda, the protagonist, is the sole unmatched clone
on the planet because her vat-mate died as a fetus. A person whose
sole vatmate dies as an adult invariable commits suicide. Her
obsession is finding life on their barren world, perhaps because life
outside of the clones groups is alone, as she is. To this end, she
uses marine-waldos and virtual visualizations to search for life beneath
the ocean’s crust.
It’s a bit difficult at first to easily comprehend the verbal usages
of the clones, for example, I/you and you/yourself. Many of the
vatmated pairs speak in tandem, not so much finishing each other’s
sentences as sending phrases back and forth like a game of catch.
This sometimes made the novel
difficult reading, but eventually one gets used to it.
Manda is regarded as an oddity, and treated as one. The other
clones do sometimes attempt to take her aloneness into account, but
it’s clear that they can never truly comprehend it. She seems
isolated from her clone group and from the colonists at large, but when
disaster strikes, she turns out to need them emotionally, as they need
her. At one point, when researching the history of Brimstone’s
colonization, she realizes she is looking at an image of a man who,
genetically, is her grandfather; and she realizes that she has genetic
parents and grandparents and all the rest. The thought disturbs
her, because she is, in truth, too much a part of the clones’ culture.
Sexual relationships, in this setting, are not needed for reproduction,
but they are present as exo-bonds—relationships outside of one’s own
clone group—and can be powerful political instruments. Complex
rituals are shown to seal these bonds, involving most adult members of
the groups concerned. Exo-bonds are also shown to have distressing
consequences, because they necessitate time away from one’s vatmate.
The culture Mixon has invented takes some time to comprehend when
reading, because it is so complex, but once inevitable disaster strikes,
the book takes off. Political machinations, emotional conflicts,
and the colonists’ desperation to survive all make for an exciting