OR: Antarctica

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #22:-


Kim Stanley Robinson

Voyager pb, 562pp, £6.99

Wade Norton is sent to the southern continent to assess conditions prior to ratification of a new Antarctic Treaty. When a carefully co-ordinated attack by eco-saboteurs destroys several bases and puts out the satellite guidance net on which the continent’s settlers rely Wade is plunged into a desperate fight for survival, which forcibly brings home to him the reality of Antarctica and the need for the diverse groups who live there to reach a working accord.

All the hallmarks of Robinson’s humanist brand of SF are in evidence here; environmental concerns, conferences seen as the ideal dramatic forum, workers’ co-operatives, insatiable curiosity regarding scientific matters and, of course, mixed communal bathing, which Robinson seems to regard as the acme of cultured living. It’s a fascinating story, one that seamlessly merges the personal and political aspects of life, and is brimming over with ideas. The author’s belief in human nature and that we can thrash out all our problems if we just sit down and talk to each other shines through, as does his love of the polar wilderness, with descriptive writing that vividly brings to life this alien landscape, capturing perfectly the feel of the place, its look and history, so that at times the book reads like a travelogue. If I have any criticism at all, it’s that in so many ways Antarctica is Robinson’s Martian trilogy, done in miniature and transplanted to a polar setting, suggesting that perhaps it’s time this writer looked for a new direction.

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