Anna Kavan was a British writer who was prominent in the slipstream genre of literature. Dollars to doughnuts that you have never heard of slipstream literature. I never heard of it either. This genre, I suppose we can call it a genre, arose in the US near the end of the eighties. It refers to a kind of science fiction which lay outside the usual tropes of space travel, alien invaders, time travel, and topics like that.
Actually, it was more of a marketing device than genre, as publishers tried to create a niche for works which were neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring — not exactly the sci fi we all know and love, not exactly fantasy, not exactly absurdist lit, not exactly speculative lit, but maybe a smidge of all of that and more. Slipstream is a state of mind or approach that is outside categorization. It is about a reality that doesn’t feel real, a somewhat surreality, but more multidimensional, dreamlike, ok, ok, weird. There. I said it. This stuff is just weird. Examples of works by writers with whom you might be familiar are Philip K. Dick, Haruki Murakami, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, and William S. Burroughs. Remember the film Being John Malkovich? Yeah, that’s slipstream. Margaret Atwood. China Mielville. It is more prevalent than you might have thought, although most of the more recent offerings are more accessible, plotwise, than the earlier works.
Ice is essentially about encroachment. It features principle characters whose names we never learn, referred to only as the woman, the Warden, and I, since it is told in first person narrative. It opens with the protagonist searching an area where he has been before for a woman whom we understand he has had a relationship with in the past. But the weather is changing, strangely cold for the time of year, we are told. In fact, it is so cold that ice can be seen to be creeping onward, inexorably toward the characters. A new glacial age? We don’t know, but all we know eventually is that disaster has come upon the planet due to the actions of humankind.
Our character does not find the woman at the house where she lives or lived, after traveling through increasingly heavy snowstorms and ice covered roads. But he does find a disgruntled husband about whom he did not know beforehand. He leaves the house and presses on in search of the woman, and in a series of scenes in which the other man appears, now as some kind of island overlord known as the Warden, then in other scenes as a military leader, the woman appears and disappears, but always the ever-present, ever moving ice is closing in on them, even as he travels to more and more tropical regions.
There is not so much a plot as a series of vignettes offered as explanations …. not even explanation, …. illustrations – yeah, illustrations, of the condition of the world and it’s opposing forces, always at war, at useless war where it doesn’t really matter who wins because the ice will overtake all and be the only final winner.
Some of the scenes morph into dreamlike instances, some change into what would seem to be another dimension, some seem to be hallucinations, but all we readers are sure of is that perhaps nothing is as it seems, except the ice.
Weird freaking book. Probably better for a book club than to just read on your own, because of the style, symbolism, and all that. I tend to read to find out what happens next. And in this, nothing happens next, exactly, except the ice, and we know that from the first few pages. All the rest is to tell us that our senses are not reliable, nor are our memories, and that dreams may just be as real as our waking existence.
Weird freaking book.