From the start, the introduction of lead character and first person narrative, I thought Ice Cream Star with her unusual voice inflection at least opened the eyes to other possibilities here. If you think her name is unusual, then there are a variety of equally unusual names for other characters in this post-apocalyptic world where most people were struck down by the time they reach the age of 20 by a killer virus. With her brother dying, 18 year-old Ice Cream hears of a cure and, according to the blurb, goes off to find it. That’s the part when I really did have problems with this book as it’s a standard trope of our genre and even more so for fantasy. The ‘Country’ of the title isn’t that far. There’s even a map at the back of the book showing its basically around the Washington area. It could be set in non-genre with a full population and still wouldn’t make much difference. It’s from here that things start going askew.
Author Sandra Newman relies far too much on dialogue to propel the story along and this massive book starts to blur, mostly through the lack of emotional content. She glosses over Ice Cream being raped and later having consensual sex that you would have blinked and missed it. Without wishing to go spoiler, she even forgets her objective at the end. Not that I wanted anything gratuitous but, emotionally, there is nothing there for the characters and that is not the way to write a story. I mean, if Ice Cream was really as cold as her name would suggest then she wouldn’t be helping her dying brother, would she? There was no animosity or affection in either sexual encounter, let alone a dose of fear, even of being killed. They might be late-aged teens knowing they only have a limited time to live but their hormones would still be whizzing from all kinds of desires and they simply weren’t.
Throughout the book there is reference to ‘Roos’ or ‘roos’ with no distinction in upper or lower case or the fact in the opening chapters, Ice Cream kills one of whatever it is but we aren’t given much detail until later and you’ll be forever having to rethink what it is. Although set in America, I did think it might have been a kangaroo, especially as that’s what the ozzies call them. As the story progressed, the impression was that these were foreign military personal until she referred to one of these as by a different name. There is nothing wrong with presenting new words or even using them for other purposes but not to clue the reader in as to what exactly she is referring to is a big mistake with so many references to them.
As much of the time, my mind was idling while reading, I pondered on who was parenting the children and why did the leaders of the other areas seem to be so much older when really they would be dead by the age of 20. If other young women were like Ice Cream and childless, then the population would be over in a couple generations. If anything, Newman is using SF as window dressing when things like this really need to be addressed in some way.
At the end of the book, Newman points out that she was helped to reduce her book down from 900 to 600 pages which made me wonder who forgot the plot and emotional content? At most, ‘The Country Of Ice Cream Star’ only plays lip service to Science Fiction and gets lost in its own dialogue. It’s made worse by the lack of emotional content and if the characters themselves don’t care for their own fates, I doubt if the reader will neither. Any originality was left at the doorstep and with nothing showing how this reality continued in the first place after its original destruction. Can I say anything worse? Be warned. It simply isn’t good Science Fiction.
(pub: Chatto & Windus/Random House. 629 page hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-701-18642-5)
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