Kavan chose her pseudonym because she admired the Czech-born Franz Kafka, whose novels The Trial (1925) and The Castle (1926) inspired her sinister bureaucracies and buildings. Her depiction of a Nordic geography of the tormented mind recalls Edgar Allan Poe’s fateful travel tales. The crew in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) sails its ship through polar fields of ice, and the story ends nightmarishly in an engulfing snowy whiteness. Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström” (1841) locates that lethal whirlpool off the Norwegian coast. Kavan’s plot and eerie tone also bear strong parallels to the techniques of French novelist Julien Gracq in The Opposing Shore (1951). This surreal fantasy portrays a naval hero, a haunted city-state poised in military readiness for imminent world war, and the hero’s obsession with a phantomlike woman linked to two rival forces.
Kavan had not set out to write science fiction with this work and was pleasantly surprised to see it tagged as such when Brian W. Aldiss called Ice the years best science fiction. He later retracted the genre label, likening the work instead to the dream novel Hebdomeros (1929) by painter Giorgio de Chirico and confirming Kavans affinity with surrealism.