“Say again X; I did not copy your last message, over.”
“I said I am being hijacked. Over!”
Oh the weather outside is frightful
But your smile is so delightful
And since we’ve no place to go
Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!
–Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne
Kim Stanley Robinson
Original Publication Date: July 1998
In the near future, researchers and other inhabitants of Antarctica learn that they’re not alone.
1. Passages dealing with the human cultures of Antarctica—past and present (or near-future), real and imagined—rank among the best Robinson has written. While many people (myself included) have been critical of the book’s similarities to the Mars Trilogy, some of this must be expected. The kinds of people who choose to live in Antarctica necessarily resemble the kinds of people who will be our first off-world colonists, and life on any frontier ill-suited for human settlement will raise certain questions.
2. Robinson also taps into the desire many of us feel, at least some of the time, to escape the cluttered, confusing societies we’ve built. He does so in a realistic, rather than a romantic way; his characters know the cost of living on the frontier, and Robinson understands that the technology produced by this culture makes living on the frontier palatable. His accounts of the early Antarctic expeditions make very clear how much easier his near-future Antarcticans have it, and highlight what survival under such conditions entails
3. The struggles created by the ecotage make for compelling reading.
1. Robinson devotes much of the novel’s first half to descriptions of landscape, living conditions, and history. These serve a purpose, and help us understand his characters’ experiences. His political, environmental, and economic musings—which will be familiar to readers of the Mars Trilogy— result from careful thought. He also has the ability to make these sections work more often than they should. Nevertheless, he devotes too many pages to these topics; his discussion of a debate over Antarctica’s geological history seems to last forever. The first 300 pages should’ve been cut by at least one-third, and the second half would have benefited from some editing.
2. The conflict among the Ferals ends with unrealistic ease.
Originality: 2/6. This resembles more than a little Robinson’s Mars trilogy, condensed and set on earth. The story itself is not terribly original, though Robinson handles it well.
Story: 4/6. It’s a good story, but slow to develop (after a great opening sequence), and rushed to its conclusion.
Characterization: 4/6 The characters have not been developed as much as I would have liked, and they aren’t as memorable as those in the Mars Trilogy. However, Robinson credibly depicts the mentality of those who seek such places. I have an acquaintance with someone who regularly works at McMurdo, a cousin who chooses to live in the far north, another who chose to live there for a few years, and I’ve worked with someone who could be a Robinson character, and often expresses a desire move a little closer to one pole or another. As near as I can determine, Robinson understands these people.
Val is perhaps the most developed of the characters, while Ta Shu provides the most interesting perspective on the setting. We spend more time with Wade, however. He provides the necessary outsider perspective, but he’s not that interesting.
The Ferals’ story would have been a more interesting one, but the resemblance to the Mars Trilogy likely would have become overwhelming had Robinson chosen to focus on them.
Imagery: 6/6. Robinson never went to Mars, yet Red Mars created a fully-realized picture of the planet. He actually went to the Antarctic.
Emotional Response: 5/6.
Overall Score: 4/6. This is a good, but uneven novel.
In total, Antarctica receives 29/42