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STONE SPRING by Stephen Baxter

STONE SPRING

By Stephen Baxter

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-451-46418-7
Publisher: ROC/Penguin

You want climate change? Try living back in the Paleolithic, when proto-Picts prowled, icebergs melted and odd travelers from Jericho ate your store of elk meat and gawked at your daughter uninvited.

That’s the setup for sci-fi/fantasy writer Baxter’s (Evolution, 2003, etc.) latest, the first volume of a projected trilogy. (The author, it seems, will not write a self-contained book when a series is possible.) The setting is a northerly peninsula of a place called Northland, a fertile and very nice locale, “a rich, rolling landscape that extended to the south as far as you could walk.” Said peninsula, Etxelur, along with the rest of Northland, now lies under the waves, pondered by stalwarts puffing their hookahs in Amsterdam cafes, but 10,000 years ago it was the province of Baxter’s heroine, a teenage girl named Ana (shades of Ayla, of Clan of the Cave Bear fame) who enjoys bouncing about in animal hides and striking up conversations about fashion with strangers out of neighboring Albia (“We make it from reeds and bark and stuff,” says said stranger of his ensemble, shivering in what would appear to be the last of the cold weather before the Big Melt). There are things to like about a book with characters named Shaper, Ice Dreamer, Mammoth Talker and Moon Reacher, but it takes Baxter a long while to—beg pardon—warm up to his overarching subject, which is that the lowland that is Northland is ever so noticeably disappearing as the seas come lapping up ever higher, thanks to melting ice caps and other accouterments of what we’re calling climate change these days. Enter that stranger, kidnapped all the way from the walled city of Jericho, who sets in motion one of the brighter ideas of the Old Stone Age: namely, building a great wall to keep the seas out. Will our ancestral Hans Brinker save Ana and pals from the fate of Atlantis? That particular bit of denouement, you might guess, awaits another installment.

Jean Auel meets Al Gore—but without Auel’s sense of drama and around-the-fire storytelling, and without Gore’s skill at popularizing science.