Turning from the distant future of 2312 to the distant past, Kim Stanley Robinson's Shaman adroitly intertwines raw human emotions in a modestly paced tale of one apprentice's journey into manhood.

Thrown out in the snow naked and with no tools, Loon, an orphan and rebellious shaman trainee, must survive his "wander," a fortnight alone in the woods. After the first night, Loon begins to face his fears as he struggles with the desire to survive, the gnawing pain of hunger and the numbing cold. Once he survives this test, his teacher, the curmudgeonly Thorn, intensifies the shamanic training by making Loon memorize the tribe's ancient tales. "Remember the old ways, and all the old stories," Thorn says. "Remember the animals, your brothers and sisters. Remember to take your place and play your part." Meanwhile, Heather, the pack's midwife and herbalist, teaches Loon to identify wild plants. But Loon wants to do things his way, taking chances that force members of his clan into dangerous situations where men and women are pitted against each other and the fierce elements.

Rich in anthropological details and survival skills, Shaman meanders across the rolling hills and valleys of an ancient past. The men of Loon's tribe hunt bison and caribou, tell tall tales and make cave paintings; the women are tough, courageous and filled with passion. And the endless cycles of the seasons and of life permeate everything in Robinson's entertaining jaunt into the imagined land of our ancestors. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

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