“Ice” by Jacek Dukaj

posted on 2011-01-24 by Michał Ziemichód


     “Ice” is a novel written by the Polish science fiction writer Jacek Dukaj. The novel mixes alternate history with science fiction elements, especially with physics and logic. It was printed and published in Poland in 2007 and will be published in English and other languages in June 2012. In December 2007, the book received the honorary prize at the ‘Poznań Review of New Publications’ and was named “Book of Autumn 2007” organized by ‘Raczyński Library‘ in Poznań.

The story of the book takes place in an alternate universe where the First World War never occurred and Poland is still under Russian rule. Following the Tunguska event, the Ice, a mysterious form of matter, has covered parts of Siberia in Russia and started expanding outwards, reaching Warsaw. The appearance of Ice results in extreme decrease of temperature, putting the whole continent under constant winter, and is accompanied by Lute, angels of Frost, a strange form of being which seems to be a native inhabitant of Ice. Under the influence of the Ice, iron turns into zimnazo (cold iron), a material with extraordinary physical properties, which results in the creation of a new branch of industry, zimnazo mining and processing, giving birth to large fortunes and new industrial empires. Moreover, the Ice freezes History and Philosophy, preserving the old political regime, affecting human psychology and changing the laws of logic from many-valued logic of “Summer” to two-valued logic of “Winter” with no intermediate steps between True and False.


     The main character of the novel is Benedykt Gierosławski, a Polish mathematician and gambler. The Ministry of Winter’s officials visit Gierosławski and make him embark on a Transsiberian journey to find his lost father, who is said to be able to communicate with Lute. During his journey Gierosławski finds out that he is caught in a political intrigue between two factions, conservatives backing the idea of “frozen Russia”, and revolutionaries aiming for a literal and politician thaw. He also meets Nicola Tesla, who has been hired by the Tsar to relieve Russia form the Winter. During the journey and upon his arrival in Irkutsk Gierosławski discovers that various political forces are interested in his person, and that Józef Piłsudski, who is fighting for Polish independence, may possess knowledge about his father.

The story is very addicting and described in detail, which also makes it very long – it counts over 1000 pages. Logical analysis and philosophical considerations contained in the Ice give the opportunity to reflect. This book is ideal for long winter evenings, and I strongly recommend it not only for science-fiction fans, but also for people who want to know how history would roll under the ice.

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