South Pole Station
by Ashley Shelby
Pub Date 04 Jul 2017
Courtesy of Netgalley
Earlier this year I watched a documentary “A Year on the Ice” by Anthony Powell. It was incredible to see how much is involved in humans trying to live in a hostile climate where several months of the year are spent in total darkness and rescue is not an option. Although technology has made some aspects of life there more tenable, it is by no means a walk in the park.
South Pole Station is set at the research station located at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 2004. The staff at the station break into different categories: Scientist (Beakers), Construction and maintenance (Nailheads), Support (cooks) and Artists. Several different artist, who work in different mediums, receive grants to spend an entire year at the station. The population drops significantly from the summer to the winter seasons. During the summer less seniority staff live outside in tents, granted tents with heat but still tents. Once the population drops for the winter, everyone lives in the dome. Life is not possible outside the dome in winter except for short periods. While this seems like a long set up to a book review, it is necessary to understand the dynamics of what happens to the characters. They are literally trapped together. If there is a personality clash it must be endured until the end of the season. There are no supply flights or transport flights at all.
The characters in the book range from lifers, who have been living at the pole on and off for years to FINGYS (F*ing New Guys). There is very little respect for the FINGYS from the lifers until the FINGYS have proven themselves. The major concern is the inexperience and unsuitability for the climate may end up getting someone killed. Cooper is an artist who is drifting through life. Her twin brother David committed suicide less than a year ago due to schizophrenia. She has not found her place in the world yet. She applied for the polar art grant because she and her brother were raised on polar explorers stories by their father. Both Cooper’s parents are distant and judgemental. They see Cooper’s decision as a avoidance of responsibility and adult life that she is long overdue to settle into. Cooper isn’t sure why this chance is so important to her, she just knows it is.
Once she reaches the pole, the novel takes off. The characters begin as regimented groups. The Beakers stick together as do the other groups. This segregation goes as far as separate bars for each. The artists do not really fit into either group nor do they mesh into their own. The writers have a disdain for the interpretative dance woman. The historical writer and the literary writer cannot agree on anything except the non-writing artist are not true artists. All of this would normally go along for as usual for the season except this year one of the scientist is a climate change denier. He is there to run an experiment proving climate change is a hoax. All the other scientist on the station consider him a joke, a spinner of fairy tales, and try their best to harass him at every turn. His requests for equipment get lost. His access to the computer system is shut down. Any fliers or papers who hangs up on bulletin boards are defaced. Cooper walks right into the middle of this war because as an artist she does not understand about the science and as a person she does not care to see someone mistreated.
One lifer states that an individual does the pole once for the experience, the second time for the money and the third time because they do not fit in anywhere else. As winter arrives and the Beakers, Nailheads and FINGYS, misfits anywhere else in the world, all move into the dome, the divisions between people and disciplines widen. Cooper’s choice to try to remain above it all as she deals with her own demons has repercussions that literally circle the globe.
The characters evolve and are complex. I came to care about them and their fates. I was completely intrigued by this glimpse of life at the pole. I really enjoyed the book. The only place I feel out of the world was in the sections dealing with the pure science. Not the author’s fault at all as I do not speak science. Whether you like adventure stories, stories of adversities, stories with great characters, or just great fiction, pick up South Pole Station. It satisfies completely.
Kipling and Trix by Mary Hamer
Courtesy Booktasters in exchange for an honest review
Historical Fiction can expand our view of actual events and the people involved in them. They can fill in the gaps between the known and the speculation. They are also tasked with entertaining the reader. In one of these missions Kipling and Trix succeeds and in the other fails.
Rudyard Kipling is one the great writers who came out of the British Empire. And it was the Empire that was his crucible of creation. He was born in India, spent several years there as a boy and returned as an adult. The exotic (at least to the British) peoples and lands of India were the fuel with which he created The Jungle Book and Just So Stories, among others. This is the known portion of the historical fiction in Kipling and Trix.
What I, and probably many others, did not know was Kipling's younger sister Alice (nicknamed Trixie) was also a talented writer. She was overshadowed by her brother’s fame and discounted because of her gender. She wrote honestly about her family, even using false names, but was criticized by her family for airing private issues in public. Her husband felt her writing had it’s place which was only in their house and did not appreciate her publishing any of it.
Kipling and Trix is the story of the siblings. They struggled to learn to live in English society opposed to the more relaxed atmosphere. As they grew to adulthood, they remained close, although Kipling did not approve of his sister’s choice of husband. Trix suffered from some form of mental illness. It is hard to say exactly what her diagnosis would have been in modern terms. Trix’s illness was treated as weakness. It was not discussed outside the family. The blame was placed firmly on her by society although her brother did try to understand. As Kipling rose to win the Nobel prize and become the close friend of King George V, Trix diminished under the weight of her illness and society’s expectations.
There were many things I learned through reading this book. Chiefly the existence of Trix and her close relationship with Kipling. I also learned of the terrible conditions they lived in while they were in England and their parents in India. This is where the book succeeded. Where the book failed was in the entertainment. It was not a page turner. I did not connect with Kipling or Trix. This may be a failing on my part since I am ignorant of India’s history and especially the British Colonial period. Some of the nuances of the story may have gotten past me. I would still recommend the book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and Rudyard Kipling’s writing.
I picked up Witches of Lychford when one of the many book deal sites I subscribe to indicated it was on sale. I had read two previous Paul Cornell books and loved them. Witches of Lychford continued the trend.
Lychford is a small village which is in the process of passing a local ordinance that would allow a superstore to not only build at the village limits. It will bring jobs, the villagers are told by the corporation. Actually it will destroy the boundaries between worlds that Lychford has protected for generations beyond count. The job of making sure the boundaries are protected was always done by the Witches of Lychord but times being what they are, modern, there is only one witch left in Lychford and everyone just views her as the eccentric villager. If Judith is going to protect not only Lychford but the world itself, she needs to find some back up witches quickly.
Paul Cornell never disappoints me. His characters are always normal with somewhat bizarre twists that makes them seem like members of my family. The story never lags. At 144 pages, this was a quick and enjoyable read. I am planning on picked up The Lost Child of Lychford (Lychford #2) when my budget allows.
The Highwayman is my first experience reading Craig Johnson's Longmire series. I choose to start the series with the newest book because who doesn't love a ghost story. Best of all, my local library, The York County Library System, had it. I generally do not read many physical books anymore due to essential tremor, but The Highwayman was more of a novella and a manageable size.
I fell in love with Walt Longmire and Henry Standing Bear after watching the Longmire TV series. They were both complex and very appealing men. They were also of a certain age that appleals to me ( i.e. not my kids age). Walt and Henry have been friends since high school. Both went to college and Viet Nam and both eventually came back home, to Wyoming.
This Longmire story in particular involves a Wyoming Highway Patrolman (woman), Rosey, who asks Walt for help. Her usual work routine is nights in a canyon with a dead patrolman in it's history, incidentally the first Native American patrolman.The dead patrolman has been issuing an "officer needs assistance" call over the radio that only the new patrolman hears. Her boss wants to send her for a psych evaluation. Having worked with Walt and respected him, she trusts him to help her figure out what is happening.
The mystery in this story had much more to it then it seemed in the first chapter. I loved the friendship between Walt and Henry. Their years of history are demonstrated by a very natural flow of conversation. The difficult conversations between Walt and Rosey concerning her mental health are very well written. I have been ill with some hell spawn of a stomach virus so I was able to read this 190 page book in one afternoon. It was a wonderful companion and helped with my misery. I picked up the first book in the series, The Cold Dish, from my libraries Overdrive collection and have found that just as enjoyable. I am looking forward to working my way through the entire series of books.