Research Blog Antarctica #113: Black Ice

Novel: Matt Dickinson: Black Ice (Hutchinson, 2002)

Black Ice is a paperback thriller set in the world of contemporary Antarctic exploration. It doesn’t have any particular literary aspirations, but the Antarctic milieu is depicted well.

The story concerns an expedition to cross Antarctica at its widest point by two men: the Norwegian Carl Norland and the British Julian Fitzgerald. The two men run into trouble almost at the end of their trip, and are rescued by the chief of a private scientific base, Lauren Burgess. The story deals with the problems of having clashing personalities in a small, remote base. This wouldn’t be a thriller if the clashes didn’t escalate into a question of life and death.

Dickinson has visited Antarctica himself, and builds parallels between his story and classic Antarctic stories such as those of Scott and Shackleton. Burgess expresses an admiration for Amundsen, but ends up resembling Shackleton in her quest to get everyone home alive.

The book sags near the end with the endless tedium of crossing vast expanses of ice. Maybe it would be more exciting if I hadn’t already read many real life accounts of similar journeys. Burgess is not much of a protagonist, but Fitzgerald is a fun foil for her. He resembles real life characters such as Ranulph Fiennes in his megalomaniac gloryhounding, taken to the extremes required by the story.

Research Blog Antarctica #112: Antarctica beer

(Photo: Juhana Pettersson, 2012)

Antarctica is a brand of beer available at least in Argentina and Brazil. I got a can from a small supermarket on the island of Ilha Grande, close to Rio de Janeiro. There was a tiny hole in the side of the can, spraying an almost imperceptible jet of pressurized beer. When we got to our hostel, we found the food sharing a plastic bag with the can soaked in beer, even as the can appeared unopened.

Opening the can, I discovered that one fourth of the beer inside had escaped. The rest didn’t taste particularly distinctive.

Research Blog Antarctica #111: Words of Captain Scott

Documentary: Paul Copeland: Words of Captain Scott (U.K. 2012)

Robert Falcon Scott and his attempt to be first at the South Pole is probably the single most talked about subject in Antarctic literature. Words of Captain Scott is an hour-long British tv documentary trying to breathe life into the old story by having actors tell the story using quotations from the written record of the expedition, mainly the diaries of various participants.

It’s a tedious, pointless excercise. Limiting the approach to the words of the people present means that what you get is basically the official Scott party line. Scott is a good writer with a great turn of phrase, but as a documentary this is roughly as informative as reading a press release. Scott knew that his diary would be a public document, and wrote accordingly.

It’s a self-hagiography facilitated by a documentary filmmaker.