Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson
I’ve never read Kim Stanley Robinson before although he’s a multi-award winning author. I don’t know what planet I’ve been on, or what rock I’ve been hiding under, but I’m glad to finally be in the K.S.R. loop.
Shaman is set in the Paleolithic/Mesolithic era. I read one review that said it was the Neolithic era, but Neolithic includes farming, and there is no hint of agrarian society in this book. But that’s not important. The setting is ancient history: that’s what’s important. Mankind is shedding its “caveman” roots and becoming more advanced in small ways such as establishing the rudiments of a society, religion and art, but they are still heavily dependent on the hunter/gatherer lifestyle. I can’t imagine there are extensive resources available to a fiction writer who wants to research this era. But whatever there is, Robinson must have looked at all of it before writing this novel because, at times, it feels more like a really long National Geographic article as opposed to a fiction story.
Don’t let that turn you away from giving it a try, though. Beneath all the historical, anthropological stuff, there is a core set of delightful characters: Loon, Thorn, Heather, Elga, and Click (an “old one” who is more Neanderthal than modern man). Loon is the main character, a 14-year old boy who, at the beginning of the book, is sent out into the wild, naked and alone, to survive for several weeks. He is the apprentice to the tribe’s current shaman, Thorn. The wander that begins the story is the beginning of Loon’s passage into manhood, and a shaman’s trial. Loon doesn’t want to be a shaman, at least not in the way his tribe’s shaman is, with magic and old stories.
He wants to find his own way, and that’s what this book is primarily about. Although Loon is only 14, the life span of humans at this time was considerably short and Thorn, the current shaman and Loon’s adoptive father, is considered old at 40. So, at 14, Loon takes on the duties and responsibilities of a man. He falls in love, is married, is put through trials that test his ability to survive in the harsh climates of a world still shaking off the remnants of the ice age.
This was not a fast read. It took some meticulousness and commitment, but the end of the book made it all worthwhile. The final “adventure” that solidifies Loon’s place among the greater world and among his own tribe is worth getting to, so stick it out and I think you’ll find yourself rewarded. You also might find yourself wanting to adopt a caveman.