Good Reading : August 2008
22 good reading ı AUGUST 2008 tarctica is a fertile setting or fiction writing.The nvironmental extremes, he bizarre and magnificent surroundings, the strained perceptions and complex relationships that grow in Antarctica provide ample fuel for a good read.There are no permanent communities in Antarctica, so large, urban-based novels are out – but stories about people and their relationships within small bases, set in hostile environments are definitely in. Fictional writing is also about description, scene setting and the best fiction captures Antarc evocatively. Here’s one of many examples: Graham Billing in Forbush and the Penguins writing about the sea as it began to freeze in late summer – it ‘had the texture of pearl … glowing with a misty grey and blue and purple and orange’. Over the years an ‘almost genre’ of Antarctic fiction has emerged and some of these works have provided fine, engaging pieces. Some books are just plots banged into Antarctica; the action and thrills could be happening anywhere on the planet (or in some cases off it). But others are more complex and delve beneath the surface of things, into the web of human relationships and motivations. Many of the writers gained knowledge of the Antarctic from earlier or contemporary works. Now, government authorities often send writers to Antarctica as part of a cultural support program.Writers such as Kim Stanley Robinson, Matthew Reilly and Nikki Gemmell were favoured by such generosity. There are so many fiction titles set in the Antarctic regions I can only provide a sample of engaging books. In 1820, the same year that Russian Thaddeus Bellingshausen first saw the continent, John Cleve Symmes’s theories f a hollow earth with holes at the Poles found expression in the book zonia: A voyage of discovery wr itten aptain Adam Seaborn. (Though it was claimed that it described an actual journey, it has long been thought that the book was written by Symmes himself and is a work of utter fiction.) Nevertheless it is a wonderful tale in which Captain Seaborn, lamenting the depletion of the world’s resources and keen to explore new regions, sets off on a sealing expedition and finds a utopian society within our hollow earth. Later in the nineteenth century, US lawyer Frank Cowan published privately his humorous book Revi-Lona: A romance of love in a marvellous land. First published in the 1880s this work has been republished and newer editions are freely available. It’s a great tale, in which a big and brawny man, Anson Oliver, ‘with many of the vices of his sex … went from the backwoods of Pennsylvania to the South Pole of the Earth and found … a perfect but petticoated paradise, where big and beautiful women ruled and little and learned men obeyed in a marvellous communistic government’. Our hero travels to this paradise, fathers 48 children and destroys it through his presence: ‘ideas, microbes, seeds’.There are modern messages in this book, some of them taken up by feminist scholars and others by environmentalists. As news of Antarctica and its environment filtered north through stories and accounts, they were woven into our literature. American writer James Fenimore Cooper, interested in the actions and motives of people in remote places, wrote the novel The Sea Lion, a story of sealers trapped in the far south for a winter. Set in the early sealing days of 1819-1820, this novel is hard going at times, but the descriptions of the south and the ice are remarkably evocative. It was first published in 1849, and copies are now available on the internet. What do Nikki Gemmell, Ursula Le Guin, Matthew Reilly, Thomas Keneally and Liz Maverick have in common? They are all share the distinction of having written fiction set in Antarctica as STEPHEN MARTIN reports. categorical white out As news of Antarctica and its nvironment filtered north through stories and accounts, they were woven into our literature.