Sunday, 17 April 2016


Icerigger by Alan Dean Foster

Nearly 40 years ago, I discovered science fiction. I discovered it through the Star Wars novelization in the summer of 1977, and I must have read it four or five times before I saw the film itself. Shortly after, I came across Alan Dean Foster's Bloodhype in the occasional school bookshop. That was my first entry into the Humanx/Commonwealth universe. Although Bloodhype isn't the easiest of reads, I was hooked.

(It was years later that I discovered that the Star Wars novelization had been ghost written by ADF.)

I guess I read Icerigger a year or so later, and I'm sure I've read it since then, but I'm sure it's been at least 25 years since I last read it. We've been clearing out junk, and I came across Icerigger and thought that before I pass it on I ought to re-read it.

Icerigger follows a half dozen humans castaway on the icy planet of Tran-ky-ky. There they encounter the primitive Tran, fight off a vast horde, encounter enormous whale slugs, build an enormous clipper-style ice ship (the Slanderscree, the icerigger of the title), and eventually make their way back to civilisation.

It's harder to read than I remember. ADF's writing style is slightly archaic, and scattered with obscure terms that I occasionally need to loo up (or more likely, just ignore). These days I wouldn't normally have the time for it - I don't like having to struggle over the writing style. The plot isn't earth-shattering, but I really like ADF's Humanx universe: aliens, mysteries, and larger-than-life characters.

The plot uses a lot of standard ADF tropes:

  • Intriguing aliens, evolved for their environments (in this case the Tran, whose claws evolved into skates and have a wing membrane that allows them to skate across Tran-ky-ky's ice). If I had a criticism of the Tran (and other ADF aliens), its that they aren't very alien - but there are few SF authors that truly manage that.
  • Immense, indestructable creatures (stavanzers, a sort of jet-propelled whale-slug). These are sometimes used as a weapon by our heroes as a weapon against another unstoppable foe (in this case against the Horde, in Midworld, one column of Akadi is used against another).
  • A journey, peppered with encounters (a lot of ADF's novels work like this - it's perhaps most obvious in the Spellsinger series).

As far as gender equality goes, Icerigger is a product of its time. There are three named female characters in the entire book - and none of them are particularly strong or have significant presence. If Icerigger was a movie, it would fail the Bechdel test.

Science fiction often underestimates advances in computing power, but this isn't an obvious flaw with Icerigger. After the first few pages, our heroes are stranded and spend their time with the primitive Tran, so I didn't miss the lack of processing power.

My copy of Icerigger was published by New England Library (NEL) in 1976 and features a cover by Tim White. One thing I really liked about NEL's treatment of the ADF novels was their consistent presentation: they used the same font and general cover design, and most of them had Tim White covers.

I enjoyed reading Icerigger again. I was initially frustrated with the way it was written, but I soon overlooked that as I became caught up in the plot. When I first picked it up, I thought it unlikely that I would enjoy it enough to read the sequels (Mission to Moulokin and The Deluge Drivers), but I'm pretty sure I will be reading them soon.

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