(Harry Schaare’s cover for the 1966 edition)
Silverberg’s young adult (juvenile) science fiction novel Time of the Great Freeze (1964) is a by the numbers with few extra frills pulp adventure with a time-worn but still seductive premise: underground cities! Unlike Heinlein’s best juvenile sci-fi works (Starman Jones, Citizen of the Galaxy, etc), Silverberg’s work fails to conjure the same wonder. Silverberg’s portrayal of his youthful hero is dull even by 50s/60s juvenile standards — he fails to exude the biggest character trait of the genre, vibrant youthful vigor. Yes he’s smart, does some judo moves, gets over friends’ deaths in a heartbeat, and is mentally tough but unfortunately is completely interchangeable with the other characters. Instead of a defining young adult hero striving against the world with a few friends, a morass of seven interchangeable characters both young and old trek across the glaciers with little difficulty and a few plot demanding deaths.
Brief Plot Summary
The years is 2650 A. D. Three hundred and fifty years earlier a New Ice Age covered large portions of the globe with ice. Most people trekked south or died as food ran out and towns were overcome. Those that remained in New York and the other great cities of America were able to construct underground cities before the ice covered them over. The societies underground have become increasingly isolated and insular with repressive governments. Food comes from hydroponics facilities and nuclear reactors provide the heat and energy. The cities regulate births inorder to control population due to the limited resources at hand. Sadly, Silverberg devotes only a few pages to the life in underground New York — the most interesting concept in the book. And, there’s news that the ice might be slowly melting!
The narrative follows a group of characters, and our young interchangeable hero Jim, who have made radio contact with London, also an underground city. The group is soon aprehended by New York’s authorities and after a shame trial the aged mayor sentences them to expulsion. Fortunately, they were planning an expedition to the surface anyway to make contact with London. Unfortunately, they have only 12 hours to prepare before they are kicked out of the city. Due to the time constant they still manage to deck out their expedition perfectly with powered sleds, weapons, food, everything! Yes, a gigantic plot hole. At NO point in the narrative do the intrepid explorers realize that they forgot something, or need particular tool, etc. After 300+ years underground I suspect most societies would completely forget how to equipped a trans-Antarctic sort of expedition!
Regardless, our heroes encounter a variety of challenges on their way to make contact with London including primitive inland societies (remnants of peoples who didn’t go underground and didn’t journey south) which wander the ice hunting animals, fierce sea peoples (think vikings), dangerous animals, brittle ice, and the like.
The most lackluster aspect of the book is Silverberg’s brief discussion of the city. A few more chapters on our hero’s life underground would have set the scene and would pique the reader’s interest. Instead, the speed at which they are exiled reduces underground New York’s wonder. By far the most wonder inducing aspect of the novel is Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1980 edition below — thankfully, the edition I own.
The interchangeable nature of the characters (Silverberg does try to differentiate but they’re all heroic figures) weakens the effort. A few weaklings who have trouble with the trek, a few with less mental strength than Jim, a few who miss life in the city etc would have made the expedition and character interactions much more realistic and engaging.
Only for fans of 50s/60s juvenile sci-fi, underground cities in science fiction, pulp adventure, and Silverberg completests like myself. This is in no way Silverberg’s best pre-Thorns (1967) novel as some claim. It’s an average but fun romp you’ll finish in a few hours.
(Paul Alexander’s cover for the 1980 edition)
(Thomas Kidd’s cover for the 1988 edition)
(Brinton Turkle’s cover for the 1964 edition)
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