VINLAND THE DREAM, by Kim Stanley Robinson
2002, 6.99, 410pp
ISBN 0-00-713404-5

This reviewed first appeared in The Alien Online

See also my reviews of the Mars books - Red, Green, Blue and Forty Signs Of Rain

All of the 14 short stories in Vinland The Dream simply sprinkle another dust-like layer of confirmation upon the thick crust of my conviction that Kim Stanley Robinson is a genius. I rattled though this book like a man possessed until I realised that there were only another 10 or so pages to go, at which point I slammed my metaphorical reading brakes on, desperate to prolong the experience.

Now, nothing much really happens in most of these 14 stories - not much compared to, say, van Vogt, Peter F. Hamilton or David Brin; Robinson doesn't write those kind of stories (although there's an exhilarating flight across Titania in "Coming Back To Dixieland" for all you thrill-jockeys out there). The stories are rather more pastoral, or whatever the mountain equivalent is for pastoral, since, as in the Mars trilogy, geology frequently occupies a central role in the drama, whether it be three old friends doing some ridge running in the near-future in "Ridge Running", an archaeology professor and his team's strange discovery in the title story or two 19th century amateur naturalists trapped on Mount Shasta in a blizzard in "Muir On Shasta".

Most of the stories involve rocks in some way, but in Robinson's hands this is no bad thing for he's somehow able to take the thinnest seeming material and twist it into small but engrossing stories about people and, at least as importantly, the human perspective upon the universe. "A History Of The Twentieth Century" is the most obvious example, wherein a writer asked to write (funnily enough) a history of the twentieth century is almost destroyed by his work. It's a non-sf tale - quiet and all the better for that.

My personal favourites, "The Lucky Strike" and "A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions" are Siamese Twin stories that riff upon a similar theme in a different way: alternate histories dealing with the consequences of the atom bomb not being dropped on Hiroshima. The first is a straightforward literary dramatisation of this, while the second is more of an essay examining the consequences of actions and questioning the role and effectiveness of the individual in history.

Robinson has a lot of fun with the detective story in "Mercurial", set, if I'm not mistaken, in the same universe as the Mars trilogy, sometime around Blue. "Discovering Life" is another Mars story, a very short piece in an alternate universe where the dreams of colonisation are almost stillborn - almost. It's a nice little addition to the canon.

Robinson's more serious pieces here are often somewhat melancholy, but never despairing; he is always hopeful for the future and it's because of people as much as technology.

Subtly, softly brilliant.

Buy it from Amazon.co.uk