At Winter’s End

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Bringing her tribe forward after 700,000 years of extremely stratified life, woman chieftain Koshmar leads the quest for the ancient city of Vengeboneeza (located near modern-day Oakland, home of the author), where prophecies tell that her people will find the means to assume mastery of the planet. On the long trek, where the tight old social order begins to disintegrate under the influence of new abundance and new challenges, and the need arises to modify tribal ethics, Koshmar is aided by her “twining partner” and lover, priestess Torlyri, and, after the sudden death of “old man” Thaggoran, by the boy Hresh, whose unorthodox behavior, curiosity, and psychic powers make him a strong focus of the novel.

Arriving at the “promised city” (the religious overtones are clearly intended), Koshmar’s tribe undergoes a sudden, severe challenge to its identity when the mechanical guardians of the ruins doubt the tribe’s humanity. Exploring the artifacts of the city once the tribe is allowed to enter, Hresh and his girlfriend Taniane discover more and more unsettling clues as to the true status of their ancestors. Facing the arrival of newcomers and internal strife, Koshmar has finally to decide on a future course for her people.

With its anthropological delight in gently describing an allen culture complete with its rites and religion, AT WINTER’S END is contemporary science fiction with a strong orientation towards the soft-science end of the genre. Furthermore, Silverberg’s novel focuses on mainstream themes of power, love, and what it means to be truly human, even if one is wearing fur and sporting a “sensing organ,” or, more prosaically, a tail. Occasional problems with purple prose, as when ice-eaters are “throbbing with hot intense vitality,” do not diminish the reader’s pleasure in following an engaging story.