Despite finding a lot to like in Ice and Day of the Oprichnik, I’ve never really managed to have a favorable opinion of Vladimir Sorokin’s fiction. It just seems like too much mayhem for mayhem’s sake, and too little substance and character.
Paul Di Filippo at the B&N Review has a different opinion. If you’re new to The Ice Trilogy and Oprichnik, this is definitely worth a read.
Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy, here translated piquantly by Jamey Gambrell, who also handled Oprichnik, was originally published in three parts from 2002 to 2005. It’s a Cossack of a different regiment entirely, with each installment displaying a contrasting storm of weirdness that add up to a cumulative gonzo hurricane.
Part 1, Bro, starts out like an old-fashioned Tolstoyan bildungsroman. We are introduced to Alexander Snegirev, born in the year 1908 to a well-off family. From birth he’s an oddball, not fitting in, although he tries to play a part in the tumultuous history of the next twenty years. The naturalistic gravitas of this early section convinces you you’re reading a straight historical novel, and grounds the subsequent fantasy with deep roots. For when Snegirev tracks down the Tunguska meteorite that fell coincident with his birth (on an expedition that plays out like Kurosawa’s Dersu Uzala), his life veers off the rails. Touching the alien “ice,” he receives a revelation: he is one of an elite cohort, some 23,000 souls, nescient fallen angels trapped in mortal clay. His real name is “Bro,” and his mission is to reassemble his tribe prior to Armageddon.
The rest of Bro reads as if Kurt Vonnegut, Doris Lessing and Thomas Pynchon had re-scripted Hammer Film’s cult classic Five Million Years to Earth, after mainlining Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. It’s a Gnostic odyssey down familiar twentieth-century history rendered utterly Martian by Bro’s perspective and insider knowledge. His death by natural causes at the end of WWII culminates the first book.