Saturday, March 26, 2011

Book Review: 'The Ice People' by Rene Barjavel

3 / 5 Stars

In the Summer of 1974 I joined the Science Fiction Book Club and one of my initial selections was ‘The Ice People’ by French author Rene Barjavel. The novel , originally published in France in 1968 as La Nuit des Temps (‘Night Time’), is also available in paperback, but paperback copies in decent condition are quite pricey, so I instead got the hardbound SF Book Club version to re-read.

At the time I first read it, ‘Ice People’ seemed a decent enough tale, although the blurb on the book’s back jacket is a forewarning that this is very much a French novel : 

Barjavel knows how to tell a story. He also knows how to write about adventures so as to make young people dream, and to touch the hearts of women in the way he writes of love 

–Elle magazine 

The book is set in the near future (i.e., the late 70s or early 1980s), when a team of French scientists, exploring their patch of the Antarctic, come across an electrical signal coming up from the depths of the ice. An international force of scientists and engineers from multiple nations assembles at the ‘Square 612’ site to erect dwelling places, and to support a massive effort to drill through hundreds of feet of ice and discover the source of the signal. 

As the excavation progresses the team is astonished to finds the petrified remains of a vast, modern city that existed some 900,000 years ago. And when they reach the source of the electrical signal the team is even more astounded, for within a sophisticated chamber, frozen in stasis using technology considerably in advance of our own, are the bodies of a beautiful woman, and a man bearing scars indicative of exposure to some strange weapon.

Efforts are soon made to thaw the woman and discover the story behind the ruins of the lost civilization under the ice. But the political alliance among the nations contributing to the excavation team is a fragile one, and when the world realizes the nature of the amazing devices found beside the sleeping pair, the safety of the entire Antarctic expedition cannot be assured….

‘The Ice People’ doesn’t shy away from being a romance novel with SF overtones, but author Barjavel keeps the plot moving along a good clip, and there is a surprising amount of violence, as well as a suspenseful chase sequence, to make this a decent adventure story.

The social ‘message’ communicated in the novel’s later pages may seem preachy and naive to contemporary audiences. But at the time of the book’s publication, with the May 1968 revolutionary movement roiling France, such sentiments were very ‘hip’ and reflective of the approving stance many intellectuals displayed towards the youth behind the ferment then sweeping Western societies. 

While it can at times be a bit cloying, ‘The Ice People’ remains a good example of late 60s SF.


Anonymous said...

This book is and forever will be my all time favourite novel; it found its way into my heart and stayed there. I do however call it 'The Night of Time' in my head, as I don't think 'The Ice People' was a fitting title; they weren't ice people, they were people who just happened to be found in ice: Gondawa was described as being a paradise. Lol XD Just a little obsession of mine :3

Elizabeth Viljoen said...

This book is truly a marvel. It was translated into Afrikaans as: "Nag van die Tyd". (Translation: Night of the Time) By Rina Scheiflinger.