“Nothing but Ice” (short story) by Dmitri Bilenkin
English Publication History: The Uncertainty Principle (Macmillan, 1978)
Original: Russian (Ничего, кроме льда), 1974
Translated by Antonina W. Bouis, 1978
Synopsis: Technicians are sent to a distant star, the destruction of which will enable humankind to establish a portal to even further stars, thereby ushering them into a wondrous new era of exploration, settlement, and progress. Prior to the star’s destruction by the hand of humans, the crew survey the orbiting planets as a measure of routine only to discover a majestic planet of ice carved by nature alone; they’re dumbstruck by its towers of glacial architecture. So strong are the tethers of affection for the planet that the crew begin to reconsider their objective: the star’s death would mean the planet’s demise, as well.
Analysis: Progress seems to he humankind’s default mode; preservation of the past comes a distant second, followed by distorting the same past at a close third. More often than not, this progress is made haphazardly as if by any means necessary: the ubiquitous production and wasteful use of plastic bags, the ever shortening life-cycle of consumer electronics, and thank Sarah Palin for the last one: “Drill, baby, drill!” It seems short-term profit outweigh long-term effect.
Where, if anywhere, would we draw the line of progress? What sacrifices would we be willing to make? I mean, we’ve pretty much already sacrificed our own planet for the sake of hamburgers, mobile phones, plastic bags, and oil, but would we sacrifice significant works of art? Sites of historical pride? Monuments to Mother Nature’s forces? In my humble opinion, if anyone can find a way to make a dollar out of anything, no matter how destructive or offensive it may be, we’ll find some pathetic yet monetarily rich human there to deliver the coup de grâce.
Aboard the technician’s ship sent to destroy the star, there are neither politicians not capitalists; with the closing line, “You know what the decision was” (112), the reader can feel certain that the crew would choose art over progress.
Review: The story offer food for thought not only about our affinity with progress, but also for humankind’s destiny Soviet ideology, one of only a few stories which have a discernible satirical weave throughout. The nine pages pack a lot of thought into a relatively few number of pages.