Antarctica: Familiar, but well-written and fun

Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAntarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsAntarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

X follows his girlfriend, Val, to Antarctica, only to learn that she is dumping him. A mountaineer, Val becomes an expedition leader while X becomes a grunt. While driving a convoy, one of his vehicles is hijacked, which is odd enough that the American Senator Phil Chase sends one of his staff, Wade, to investigate. Kim Stanley Robinson‘s Antarctica is an adventure, a near future climate change allegory, and an overview of Antarctica’s history, geography, geology, politics, and more.

In other words, Antarctica, published in 1997, is almost exactly the mix of detail, thoughtful speculation, and fun that KSR’s readers might expect. The details are laid out in a familiar way: a lot of political and philosophical theorizing is dressed up as conversation, there is a very attractive and tall woman, and there are lengthy summaries of past expeditions to explore Antarctica. Thematically, Antarctica allows KSR to consider ecological concerns, the contributions and shortcomings of scientists, and how an alternative community might live with deep and sustainable ties to the land. In every novel, perhaps we catch a reflection of the author’s other works.

I was especially reminded of Robinson’s MARS books. Readers will recognize a lot of Hiroko in Mai-lis, a lot of Art in Wade, and a fair bit of William Fort in Senator Chase. No expedition to Antarctica would be complete without some misadventure, and not only is that the case here but when it happens I thought often of John Boone’s wandering journey across Mars (as well as Loon’s escape in Shaman). There is no villain so much as the characters realize that people have competing interests over how to use the land. All parties, including the ecoteurs (ecological saboteurs), are carefully maneuvered until they are incentivized to reach a new compromise. Much of Antarctica is about the nature of that compromise.

Very few science fiction authors use utopian plot structures, so KSR’s novels remain somewhat unique within the genre even if they recall each other. Familiar or not, Antarctica is fun, it’s often humorous, and the characters are convincing. I learned a bit about Antarctica, too. While I’d recommend Red Mars and Green Mars, The Years of Rice and Salt, and Shaman ahead of Antarctica, I do still recommend it.

(A final note. Kim Stanley Robinson wrote Antarctica after participating in the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists and Writers program. A list of participants can be found HERE. At one point, a character quips that one can read everything on Antarctica in five books and KSR provides a list of these five books at the end.)

Published in 1997. It is a stark and inhospitable place, where the landscape itself poses a challenge to survival, yet its strange, silent beauty has long fascinated scientists and adventurers. Now Antarctica faces an uncertain future. The international treaty which protects the continent is about to dissolve, clearing the way for Antarctica’s resources to be plundered, its eerie beauty to be savaged. As politicians wrangle over its fate, major corporations begin probing for its hidden riches. Adventurers come, as they have for more than a century, seeking the wild, untamed land even as they endanger it with their ever-growing numbers. And radical environmentalists carry out a covert campaign of sabotage to reclaim the land from those who would destroy it for profit. All who come here have their own agenda, and all will fight to ensure their vision of the future for the remote and awe-inspiring world at the South Pole.

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RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.

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