Arthur C. Clarke + William S. Burroughs

After reading Russian author Vladimir Sorokin’s recently translated Ice (out now), we realized that we’d encountered one of those rare books that rearrange your brain. Sorokin — who was once threatened with jail for writing a sex scene between Khrushchev and Stalin — has written a story about an asteroid buried in Siberia that communicates with its alien but humanoid “children.” Convinced of their superiority, the aliens regard humans as “meat machines” and dispatch them remorselessly.

Yet Sorokin makes us feel a disturbing sympathy for the murderous aliens. In the process, he explores the dark secret of lockstep, exclusivist zealotry: Once you’ve joined the in-crowd, you really do feel like a member of a superior species. Those who aren’t with you are worse than inferior — they’re disposable. Of course, you could ignore the ah-ha insight and read Ice for its surprising plot twists and insider’s view of secret cults — that is, the kind of thriller elements that are irresistible to us meat machines.

“>BUY Ice (NYRB Classics; 304 pages; hardcover)

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Arthur C. Clarke + William S. Burroughs