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.