Series: Helliconia 3
Reviewed date: 2006 Dec 20
The concluding volume of the Helliconia trilogy is titled Helliconia Winter, but chronicles the events in the autumn of Helliconia's Great Year. There are spoilers in this book, so you must read Helliconia Winter and Helliconia Summer first if you ever hope to enjoy them.
Helliconia Winter is the best of the three books because it has the strongest character. Aldiss still jumps around to different viewpoints, but the story line centers around Luterin Shokerandit, a young man from Sibornal. The advance of the Great Winter is causing crops to fail, and wars over resources are common. Luterin joins the army and helps repel an invasion from the continent of Campannlat. But on his return, he finds Sibornal has become a cruel place. The Oligarch has decided that the only way for Sibornal to survive the ruthless and cruel climate of the Great Winter is to become ruthless and cruel itself. All foreigners are expelled, and phagors are killed. The borders are closed, and the citizens' liberties are curtailed to prevent the Fat Death plague from spreading. The religious practice of pauk--a trancelike communication with the dead--is outlawed.
The Luterin storyline is interesting, but Aldiss spends a fair bit of time discussing Earth. Unknown to the Helliconians, they are being watched by Avernus, an observation satellite that is beaming the whole saga back to Earth. Humans on Earth are just emerging from an ice age triggered by a nuclear war, and the reborn humanity watches in fascination at the drama unfolding on Helliconia. Unfortunately this is boring, and I wish Aldiss had excised that entire subplot from the trilogy.
The best part of Helliconia Winter is that Aldiss finally reveals the big picture of Helliconian life. In Helliconia Summer, one of the characters uses linguistic evidence to argue that phagors are the original inhabitants of Helliconia, and that man is an interloper. In Helliconia Winter we learn the more subtle truth: phagors are indeed the original dominant species, and mankind only evolved into intelligent creatures after Helliconia's sun Batalix was captured by the star Freyr. This marked the beginning of the Great Years; whereas before Helliconia had orbited Batalix and been in a perpetual ice age, now it orbited Freyr as well, resulting in centuries-long seasons of bitter cold and unendurable heat. These new seasons are unkind to the phagors, who are adapted only to the cold. Humans, who evolved into sentience under the influence of Freyr, rapidly ascending to the dominant position, but their racial memory still recalls a time when they were unintelligent animals under the dominion of phagors.
So far, Helliconia Winter is the best science fiction book I've read all year.