Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Iron Winter Iron Winter
by Stephen Baxter

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Jacqui Smith

It seems that Baxter really does believe in torturing the inhabitants of his alternate history with natural disasters far beyond anything that happened in the actual past. In Iron Winter, in the equivalent of our fourteenth century, he ramps up the "Little Ice Age", bringing in the cool climate change much faster and harder than actually occurred. Extelur rapidly ices up, and millions of people across Europe die or are displaced. The Hatti evacuate and head for Carthage (in this world, Hannibal won, the Romans lost) where they are not exactly welcome…

It’s in the midst of this turmoil that Baxter sends one of his central characters, the aging philosopher Pyxeas, all the way from Extelur, across Europe and then along the Silk Road to Cathay, seeking the missing pieces of the puzzle that will explain why the world is cooling. I’m not entirely certain that Baxter’s explanation works to account for the full amount of variation from reality, but it’s credible enough for the story.

This is an epic disaster movie of a novel – and I don’t mean that as a criticism. It has a great background, and strong characters, struggling to survive in a world that is rapidly turning hostile. Yes, that sometimes turns them against each other, but the great enemy is not in the least human, it is the implacable force of climate change. Are there lessons to be learned here, as our society faces a similar enemy? Quite possibly, and in any case, this is undoubtedly a good read.

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