By William R. Forstchen
Unabridged recording published by Blackstone Audio
Read by Elijah Alexander
I have recently noticed that I was reviewing a lot of stories that I had either read and enjoyed several times of were by favorite authors (or both) and decided it might be time to try something by someone I had never encountered before.
Ice Prophet is the first book of William R. Forstchen’s Ice Prophet Series. It tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Earth frozen all too literally in an ice age that as of the time of this story has lasted two thousand years. I think that is meant to sound like a long time but as Ice Ages go, that is really just getting started.
Anyway our protagonist, Michael, seems, at the outset, to be your typical over-sheltered scholastically-inclined individual. In short he is a nerd, which I suppose for someone who has been a monk from birth is probably not at all surprising. He is also the orphaned nephew of the head of his particular religious order, all religious orders in the book appear to have been descended from the Roman Catholic Church, but now practice a religion based on the fact that God has turned his back on the World and its people. There appears in this book, at least, to be no sign of any other religion having survived whatever calamity brought on the Ice Age. And make no mistake about it, it is expressly stated that the Ice Age, which seems to freeze over the oceans each winter, is due to human action.
Through political machinations, the archenemy and leading competitor to be the next pope-equivalent of Michael’s uncle, forces Michael to go to war with the crusading fleet of ice-ships. Later it becomes apparent the idea was to kill Michael in a manner that would leave his uncle unable to strike back and this is done by convicting Michael of heresy and giving him the option of “riding a ram.” The ram is a sort of kamikaze ice-craft that condemned criminals are required to ride to attack the enemy fleet. The notion is that they can eject before the explosive ram hits, but if their ram misses the target they are left to die on the ice and the only way to make sure the craft stays on target is to ride it all the way to impact. While suicide is not condoned by the Church, this sort of suicide ensures eternal salvation – make of that what you will.
Michael manages to survive his trip on the ram, but most of his fleet was destroyed. Up until this point many of the ice-sailors have been declaring him to be the “Chosen One” a messianic figure also called the “Prophet,” but Michael has denied all that. But after finding the love of his life in a captured port town and surviving the ram and successfully finding his way back to that port town, he decides his visions of the future are right and begins a rebellion against the Church… and hilarity ensues. Well, not hilarity, but the obvious happens and the book turns out to be the first volume of a trilogy.
I have not read the rest of the trilogy and probably will not, but I predict that by the end of the story, Michael will die so that the Earth and her people can be saved. In a book so heavily based on Catholic theology it is all too predictable. An epilog might even have people two thousand years later on evangelical crusades telling others that “Michael died for your sins.”
I am not a fan of religious-based science fiction and never have been. And it does not matter which religion. I took a class once on Religion in Science Fiction. I had expected a lot of discussion of made up religions in the genre perhaps compared to stories using real religious theology. There was only the latter and most of it was Christianity-based (in various flavors) with a token Jewish SF story and I think there was one that was supposed to be either Buddhist or Hindu and one that could have been Taoist or Confucianist. I know there are vast differences between those last two pairs, but we were not able to tell exactly which was which in the stories.
The problem with religion-based fiction is it tends to spend more time discussing theology than it does telling a story and while Mister Forstchen’s Ice Prophet does eventually settle down and tries to push the plot, the religious aspect is always being forced into the reader’s face. I found it all a most unpleasant experience, but if you like religious fiction set in a dour and oppressive world, you might like this one. It is a serious story with no real comic relief and not a particularly original plot.
Elijah Alexander seems to love to use his raspy voice to force every imaginable accent into Forstchen’s characters. If there was any logic to his choices, I could not detect it as even people who lived together had a wide variety of accents. Listening to the narration I could detect the accents of America, Scotland, Wales, Eastern Europe, Liverpool, Peter Lorre, stereotypical Jew from Eastern Europe… and many many more, each one thicker and more difficult to understand than the last. Mister Alexander voices those accents well, but it might have made the reading more enjoyable if he had just read to us. Instead the listener is forced to endure these abominably heavy accents while also trying to understand just what is going on in the story. It’s a bad mix with some rather poor vocal choices.
When Mister Alexander just reads the narrative sections, he is not bad at all, but when allowed to read the dialogue, it just does not work. A reader needs to understand that his or her listeners are there for the story first and the maybe reader comes second. In this case I got the impression that Mister Alexander was trying to upstage Mister Forstchen and his characters.
So all told I found this a quite unpleasant story made much worse by a reading in which the narrator did not demonstrate the respect for another’s work that even the worst story deserved. It is possible I would have found the story more bearable had there been a reader who was not so intent on gracing us with a thousand thick and hard to understand accents. I have said before that stories I did not really like were saved because the reader did such a great job that I felt compelled to listen, but in this case it took all my patience to listen through to the end.
Read or listen to this one at your own risk!