Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Maa

Sunday, May 19th, 2019

Last Friday saw the publication of the fourth roleplaying game I’ve worked on in a major capacity. I can safely say that it’s also the most unusual game of my career so far.

Maa (that’s Earth in Finnish; the game is bilingual Finnish/English) got started last summer when the American sculptor Matthew Day Jackson began to organize an exhibition of his works at the Serlachius Museums in Mänttä, Finland. Talking with the curator Timo Valjakka, he decided that instead of an exhibition catalogue, he wanted to make a roleplaying game.

In a wonderful turn of events, both the museum and Valjakka decided to go for it.

A video commissioned by the museum about the Maa project.

The museum brought me in as a roleplaying consultant and to work with Jackson to make the game. The third core member of our team was the curator and arts writer Tom Morton who did world and story design and writing.

On Friday, Jackson’s exhibition opened in Mänttä and Maa the rolaplying game was released alongside it. The exhibition and the game are intertwined, with the exhibition existing as a prelude of sorts to the story of the game.

Maa is set a thousand years in the future, after humanity has wiped itself out. In our absence, the planet has healed and become paradise. Now, the last survivors of our species are crawling out of their antiquated bunkers, blinking into the light.

The question is, will humanity destroy the earth once again, or will we be able to evolve?

The game and related swag at the museum store.

The player characters are Scouts sent out by the Family residing in a Bunker in what used to be Finland. During the game, they can explore the new world, meet its strange inhabitants and eventually meet their destinies on the Moon.

Jackson’s exhibition represents a museum built inside the Bunker, the sculptures strange remnants brought down from the surface by previous generations of Scouts. As you walk into the exhibition, whether alone or as part of a group, you’re asked to take the role of a trainee Scout and see what you can make out of the surface based on what you see.

Although the exhibition and the game are interlinked, the game is also a wholly unique experience on its own. Indeed, we designed it to be played like a traditional roleplaying game, with players and the Seer directing the action.

The contents of the game box.

In the game box, you’ll get two hardcover books, a card deck, a map, character sheets and spherical dice handmade expressly for this game. The game’s system is based on color theory and the affinities, responses and emotions different colors create. In Maa, subjectivity is king as we each react to the colors during play.

Personally, this was a wonderful project especially because of the new ideas that resulted from this cross-pollination of the arts and roleplaying worlds, and also because as an institution the museum threw its weight behind it with such enthusiasm. It’s my hope that the story of Maa will continue, in one form or another.

If you can read Finnish, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat did a wonderful article about Maa. It was also picked up by Suomen kuvalehti and the Finnish roleplaying media Roolipelitiedotus.

Serlachius Museums are in the small rural town of Mänttä, an unusual but beautiful location for such a place.

At the moment, Maa is available as a limited edition of 200 copies signed by the artist. You can get yours from the museum’s shop for 299 €.

Tuhannen viillon kuolema nyt äänikirjana!

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Meitsin romaani Tuhannen viillon kuolema on nyt saatavilla myös äänikirjana, esimerkiksi täällä!

Non-Digital: Itras by – the Menagerie

Monday, October 1st, 2018

The Menagerie is a supplement for the Norwegian roleplaying game Itras by, created by Ole Peder Giæver and Martin Bull Gudmundsen. However, if you’re familiar with roleplaying game supplements, this is definitely something else. As befits the surreal nature of Itras by, the Menagerie calls into question the very meaning of expanding on a published roleplaying game.

I have a lot of love for Itras by. A highly literate yet light roleplaying game set in the dreamlike city its named after, the original core book played with mood and prose, guidance and suggestions much more than banal game mechanics.

In 2009, I acted as the publisher for the Finnish translation of the game, under the title Itran kaupunki. A key motivation for me to have the game translated was so I could read it myself. It hadn’t appeared in English yet and I didn’t read Norwegian. It proved well worth the effort!

The Menagerie is a feast of contributions from a large variety of different designers, writers and illustrators, all coming together to offer their own take on Itras by. In addition to being material you can use to run games, it’s also a masterclass in game design, peeling back the layers of decision-making that go into making any particular choice.

Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jason Morningstar’s article Itras by Without Itras by. In it, he goes through the deck of cards the game uses as a tool for inspiration and resolution of events. He demonstrates how it can be used in other contexts and what kind of effects different modifications create.

It’s also a wonderfully heterogenous book. Roleplaying communities have an unfortunate tendency to devolve into depressing little cliques who all hate each other, but the Menagerie boasts contributions from a highly disparate group of people, both geographically and in terms of design style. There are Norwegians and Poles, Americans and New Zealanders, Storygames alumni and OSR aficionados.

The book even includes complete games based on Itras by. An example is Grimasques by Banana Chan, a freeform game demonstrating that good design and focus on a single element of the Itras by world can produce something very clearly defined even in this surreal environment.

For me, two of the most affecting chapters in the book came at the very end. Martin Bull Gudmundsen has a beautiful personal essay reflecting on his own background, Asperger’s syndrome and the particular nature of surreal game design. He also wrote a short fictional text together with Itras by co-designer Ole Peder Giæver as an allegory about making a game like this, a suitable ending to a book full of strange wonders.

Non-Digital: Analog Game Studies vol. 2

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

I’ve read the second of the Analog Game Studies books in my quest to catch up on the series. You can check out the book here or read the articles here.

After the introductory first book, this second volume is where the series really gets going. It feels like in addition to being collections of articles about non-digital games, the series also engages in trying to define what “analog games” means. Reading this book, the divide into digital and analog games feels arbitrary, yet also necessary to carve out space for all the types of games that often get excluded from discussions of games.

The book starts strong with veteran boardgame designer Bruno Faidutti’s essay Postclonial Catan. In it, he subjects European-style boardgames to a postcolonial analysis, writing from his own perspective as a designer of Eurogames. To me, the interest of the essay lies in not just the analysis, but also on the design perspective on why Eurogames seem so full of national stereotypes, often cringeworthy.

In other articles, reading Anglo-American writers about Eurogames is strange because it reveals such deep cultural fissures. For example, there’s a critique of Eurogames like Settlers of Catan in that they avoid violence as a subject matter. This creates a false representation of history because when you remove violence from colonialism, for example, and reduce it to nothing but trade, you whitewash historical crimes.

This critique is obviously totally sensible! Yet the rule against war and combat is ingrained in me from my own childhood, from how my mother and father and the worldview I learned at home. The idea that family games should be violence-free is something that makes sense to me on a gut level. It feels shocking to read it being talked about so casually, as if it was just some weird European quirk.

Closer to my home field of roleplaying games and larp, there’s the article Out of the Dungeons: Representations of Queer Sexuality in RPG Source Books by Jaakko Stenros and Tanja Sihvonen. I’d seen it years ago at Ropecon in presentation form, but it was interesting to read it properly. Queer sexualities have been dealt with in roleplaying games in a messy, often weird way, and I remember some of the specific examples from my own roleplaying history.

The idea of roleplaying or larping with an audience has kept recurring in different contexts through the years, from art galleries who wanted art larp to be audience friendly to the modern phenomenon of roleplaying as a YouTube spectacle. There’s three excellent articles in the book which expand on this in ways that make me think our previous conceptions of the subject have been simplistic. These articles show that if you really want to do this, roleplay with an audience, there’s a whole art to it.

The articles are Moyra Turkington’s A Look Back From the Future: Play and Performance in Biosphere 2013, Sarah Lynne Bowman’s Connecting Stage Acting, Role-Playing and Improvisation and Lisa Quoresimo’s Joy and Meaning in Theater Games. What I especially like about them is the basis in actual experiences with this kind of work.

This is another great collection, well worth your time. The only real issue with it is that the articles were originally posted online, and a few contain references to illustrations or other features not included in the book.

Kuparihärkä-romaanin julkkarit 4.10.!

Monday, September 10th, 2018

Kuparihärkä-romaanin julkaisua juhlistetaan 4.10. Toverissa!

Non-Digital: Analog Game Studies vol. 1

Saturday, September 1st, 2018

I’ve worked a lot on tabletop games this year because of my involvement with Vampire: the Masquerade 5th Edition, and I developed a yearning for the kind of design writing about tabletop games that we have for larp in the form of the Knutepunkt books.

As sometimes happens, it turns out this already existed, and had for some time. I found the first two Analog Game Studies collections at Gencon, and just finished reading the first one, published in 2016. It collects the articles originally published online in the journal in 2014.

This is good stuff, and I’m happy to know that there’s already a few years worth more out for me to read!

From the perspective of a reader like me who’s interested in roleplaying game design, the highlights from vol. 1 are Jason Morningstar’s article Visual Design as Metaphor: The Evolution of a Character Sheet and Evan Torner’s Uncertainty in Analog Role-Playing Games.

Morningstar’s article takes a classic design question of the character sheet and goes through his own process in developing one for the game Night Witches. Torner writes about uncertainty from many different perspectives, using published games as examples. I especially liked the consideration of uncertainty created by other players, as that’s a design space close to my heart.

Other interesting articles include Nathan Altice’s The Playing Card Platform and Sarah Lynne Bowman and Evan Torner’s Post-Larp Depression. Both felt like the kind of baseline articles about a given subject that can now be referenced in a thousand articles in the future.

The last article in the book is Lizzie Stark’s The Curse of Writing Autobiographical Games, in which she writes about designing a game called The Curse. The subject is deeply personal and the essay is a wonderful, clear example of how difficult subject matter becomes design.

Research Blog Antarctica #164 – The Winter Over

Sunday, August 19th, 2018

Fiction: Matthew Iden: The Winter Over (Thomas & Mercer, 2017)

At first glance, The Winter Over by Matthew Iden falls into the familiar category of Antarctic thrillers where manly men face the travails of human weakness and the unforgiving environment. And indeed, superficially the book seems to have some of the characters and plot elements typical of those stories.

Its protagonist is mechanical engineer Cass Jennings who’s assigned to the fictional Shackleton South Pole Research Facility for the nine month isolation of the Antarctic winter. Soon life at the Facility starts to go wrong as hostile, malicious forces try to use it for their own purposes.

Yet this is not a macho story. By the end, its clear that the creative vision is something else altogether, something more humane and warm than is typical of these novels.

Rikkaiden unelmat -trilogian toinen osa Kuparihärkä ilmestyy syksyllä

Tuesday, July 24th, 2018

Rikkaiden unelmat -trilogian toinen osa Kuparihärkä ilmestyy syksyllä 2018! Kirja on ennakkotilattavissa täältä!

Working on Vampire 5th Edition (also: Nazis)

Monday, July 9th, 2018

I spent this spring working on the 5th edition of Vampire: the Masquerade. The first releases on the 5th edition line are the Corebook and the Camarilla and Anarch books. I’m the lead writer on the Anarch book but I also contributed to the two others.

It’s been a strange experience to be part of this because along with Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Vampire is the roleplaying game that really showed me what the medium was capable of when I was a teenager in the Nineties who had only played Dungeons & Dragons and Rolemaster. I most definitely had a Vampire phase in high school and some of my closest friends are people I originally met in Vampire larps. As we got older, we started to understand politics and now we can meet in a game or a demonstration protesting Finland’s inhuman, rightwing immigration policies.

I’ve been a fan of Vampire since childhood, so working on the new edition has definitely been a joy. The vampire metaphor is very versatile, and you can use it in many interesting ways. Despite the fact that I’ve lived with Vampire for 25+ years, there are still new things to do with it.

My involvement with the new Swedish incarnation of White Wolf (Paradox Entertainment acquired White Wolf from the MMO maker CCP in 2015) started with the Vampire larp End of the Line. It was designed by me, Bjarke Pedersen and Martin Ericsson and produced by Mikko Pervilä and Jose Jacome. The goal of the larp was simple: Put the vampire back in Vampire. Set in an illegal techno club and eventually replayed in New Orleans and Berlin, it ended up having a Diana Jones nomination.

I went on to work on two other official Vampire larps, Enlightenment in Blood in Berlin and Parliament of Shadows in Brussels. In Parliament of Shadows (created with Maria Pettersson and Bjarke Pedersen), we made an urban larp about vampiric political influence partially played inside the actual, real European Parliament, with two MEPs participating as themselves. When they started making the plans for the 5th edition, White Wolf wanted to bring the game closer to contemporary political issues, but I’d like to think they didn’t expect it to go quite this close to real politics!

An in-game situation in Parliament of Shadows, played inside the European Parliament. (Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen)

At the beginning of August, I’ll go to Gencon in the U.S. It’s always been a dream of mine to go there and going as a writer on Vampire feels pretty great!

For tabletop roleplaying games, my native scene is the one in Finland where I live. I try to follow the American discussion as well, but it’s difficult to do as an outsider. As a game designer from a small European country, it feels like being an exchange student at high school, trying to figure out all the social dynamics and hierarchies.

Sometimes it can be quite shocking. Here’s a blog post claiming that White Wolf has a clandestine agenda of secretly trying to court a Nazi audience. I’ve never worked on a high profile project like this before, so perhaps it’s part of moving to the big leagues. Still, I can’t help but be affected by this sort of thing.

Finland is experiencing the rise of the far right the same as most other European countries, as well as the U.S. Two years ago, a Nazi killed a man in broad daylight in front of the Helsinki railway station. There’s been attacks with knives and tear gas. A Finnish Nazi tortured a disabled man to death in Sweden. Far right nutjobs regularly target my immediate family because of their public political views. That’s a terrifying thing because although you think that they’re probably all talk, what if something still happens? These people live in the same country, the same city as me. I have been a committed anti-Nazi all my life, and that position has only grown stronger as I’ve aged and felt the effects of this organized hate on my family.

As a freelancer working on Vampire 5th Edition, I know enough of the internal workings of the company to be aware that I’m not an outlier. The folks at White Wolf are opposed to Nazis. As should everyone! White Wolf officially commented on the Nazi issue here and I can say as someone with an inside view that no plan to market this game to Nazis exists or has ever existed. The idea is insane, preposterous and deeply offensive.

Today, I woke up to friends sending me messages asking: “Juhana, have you started working with Nazis?” What amazes me is that the article confidently claims that White Wolf’s marketing plan is to sell to Nazis, and then fails to back this up in any substantial way. You can see this for yourself, it’s right here.

The internet is full of weird stuff, folks. You don’t have to believe all of it.

Research Blog Antarctica #163 – Frozen Solid

Friday, January 5th, 2018

Fiction: James M. Tabor: Frozen Solid (2013, Ballantine Books)

There’s a lot of thrillers set in Antarctica, but James M. Tabor’s Frozen Solid is better than most, at least within the confines of the genre. Protagonist Hallie Leland arrives at the Amundsen Scott Station at the South Pole only to discover women dying of suspicious causes. She starts to uncover the conspiracy and befriends the gruff station manager, one of those middle-aged hostile men who turn out to have a heart of gold.

The book is elevated by the excellent work of the narrator, Paul Michael. He gives the characters, and especially the hero, a dignity that goes beyond the text.

Björn Wahloos rakastaa kirjaa joka rakastaa Björn Wahlroosia

Monday, November 27th, 2017

(Tämä kirjoitus julkaistiin alkujaan Imagen saitilla olleessa Pikseliparatiisi-blogissani 27. 11. 2017.)

Ayn Randin romaani Atlas Shrugged on juuri ilmestynyt kännöksenä nimellä Kun maailma järkkyi. Kauppalehden mukaan Björn “Wahlroos on ollut edistämässä kirjan suomentamista.”

Romaanin tarina kertoo siitä, kuinka rikkaat suurmiehet ja teollisuuspomot saavat tarpeekseen kansan kiittämättömyydestä ja päättävät vetäytyä piiloon pieneen vuoristokylään. Ilman heidän panostaan maailma hiljalleen sortuu.

Ei ole ihme että kirja on monien rikkaiden ja vaikutusvaltaisten ihmisten suosiossa: Sen tarina esittää heidät välttämätöminä hahmoina joita ilman maailma ei toimi. Kirjan merkkihenkilöt käpertyvät mököttämään, ja sen myötä kaikki loppuu. Romaanin englanninkielisen nimen Atlas vertautuu näihin merkkihenkilöihin. Jättiläinen muistuttaa siitä kuinka raskasta on kantaa koko maailman painoa harteillaan.

Kuulostaa varmasti ihanalta varakkaasta ihmisestä joka toivoisi että kansa olisi häntä kohtaan kiitollisempaa. Ilman minua te mitättömyydet ette olisi mitään! Joku päivä minä vielä näytän teille! Ilman minua ette pärjää!

Merirosvotarina

Ayn Randin romaani on mainettaan helppolukuisempi. Se on pitkä, mutta objektivismin filosofiaa ei voi syyttää turhista krumeluureista. Sen mukaan ihmisten auttaminen on pahasta ja itsekkyys on hyvästä. Suurmiehet (ja yksi nainen) pyörittävät maailmaa ja muiden pitää mukautua siihen.

Filosofiana objektivismi edustaa aatesuuntaa, jossa ajatusrakennelman tarkoitus on sekä palvella rikkaiden materiaalisia etuja että tuottaa heille hyvä mieli.

Oma suosikkihahmoni kirjassa on merirosvo Ragnar Danneskjöld joka upottaa Yhdysvalloista Eurooppaan lähetettyjä hätäapukuljetuksia. Ilman apua eurooppalaiset saattavat vielä joskus nousta jaloilleen, mutta avun myötä heistä tulisi pelkkiä parasiitteja.

Björn Wahlroosin Ayn Rand -ihannoinnissa on jotain perin kiusallista. Rand teki uransa ajattelijana jonka tuotanto hiveli suurmiesten egoja. Siksi suurmiehet pitivät hänestä. Ja miksi ei, kukapa meistä ei tykkäisi kun vähän kehutaan?

Kun Wahlroos tukee Randin romaanin suomentamista, hän ostaa ylistyslaulun itselleen. Rand on rikkaiden hovitrubaduuri jonka rooli on kertoa heille että heidän itsekyytensä ja omahyväisyytensä on perusteltua, jopa moraalinen välttämättömyys. Lisäksi kirja esittää heidät seksuaalisesti haluttavina. Esiintyessään Rand-fanina Wahlroos paljastaa olevansa samanlainen myötäilylle altis toope kuin me muutkin.

Sankarin muotokuva

Mutta hetkinen, rakastaako Ayn Rand todella Björn Wahlroosia? Onko kirja sittenkään pankkiirille niin imarteleva?

Millaisia ovat Randin ihannoimat suurmiehet?

Kirjan keskiössä on keksijänero John Galt. Hän kehittää kokonaan uuden tavan tuottaa energiaa, mutta ei halua luovuttaa sitä kollektivistien käsiin. Galtille, kuten muillekin kirjan suurmiehille, kaikenlainen vehtaaminen valtion kanssa on vastenmielistä ja moraalisesti väärin. Vauraus syntyy neron omasta työstä ja näkemyksestä. Muilta ei saa ottaa vastaan mitään ilman asianmukaista korvausta.

Kollektivistit toki edustavat Randin romaanissa kaikkea kurjaa. Näkyvimpinä pahiksina nousee kuitenkin esiin kaksi hahmoa, jotka alleviivaavat sitä että kaikki nerot ja rikkaat eivät ole sankareita. Tiedemies Robert Stadler on nero, mutta haaskaa lahjojaan kollektivismin palveluksessa. Se on romaanissa hirvittävä moraalinen rikos. Mitättömyydet lankeavat valtionpalvontaan silkkaa tyhmyyttään, mutta Stadler olisi voinut olla samanlainen suurmies kuin John Galt.

Wahlroosin hahmon kannalta vielä mielenkiintoisempi hahmo on perijä James Taggart. Hän syntyy rikkaaseen perheeseen, mutta alentuu rautatietä johtaessaan yhteistyöhön valtion kanssa. Koska Taggart ei kykene itse johtamaan yhtiötään menestykseen, hän nojaa viranomaisiin.

Tämä onkin itselleni ollut yksi suurimmista Randin teokseen liittyvistä mysteereistä. Randia lukevat Wahlroosin kaltaiset vaikuttajat eivät karsasta valtion tukia liiketoiminnalleen tai pyri välttelemään yhteistyötä valtionyhtiöiden kanssa. Jos vertaa Randin romaania ja Wahlroosin elämänkertaa, on selvää että Wahlroos itse on lähempänä James Taggartia kuin John Galtia.

Ellei Wahlroosilla itsellään sitten ole kellarissaan nerokasta uutta energialähdettä jota hän on haluton jakamaan kiittämättömän kansan kanssa.

Uusi romaani Tuhannen viillon kuolema ilmestyy 15.9.!

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

Uusin romaanini Tuhannen viillon kuolema ilmestyy 15.9.2017!

Trilogia maailmasta jossa ilmastonmuutos on väistämätön tosiasia

Aino on siivooja, jolta varakas asiakas pimittää viisi euroa. Aino saa tarpeekseen, joten jonkun on kuoltava. Cessi on töissä New Life Oy:ssä, joka auttaa äveriäitä ihmisiä varautumaan ilmastokatastrofiin. Hän unelmoi pääsystä osaksi yhteiskunnallista eliittiä. Jari on rikkaan perheen poika, joka haluaisi olla köyhä ja uskottava. Jokainen heistä yrittää elää elämäänsä ilmastonmuutoksen ja luokkasodan ristipaineessa.

Tuhannen viillon kuolema aloittaa Rikkaiden unelmat -trilogian, jossa merenpinta nousee, rikas varautuu ja köyhä elää elämäänsä miten parhaiten taitaa. Tuhannen viillon kuolema on yhteiskunnallinen romaani, jossa kukaan ei ole turvassa muuttuvalta maailmalta. Rikkaalla ihmisellä on varaa ostaa lahjoituksilla itselleen hyväntekijän status samalla kun hän ajaa kurjistavaa politiikkaa. Väkivalta ei ala poliittisena liikkeenä vaan tavallisen ihmisen tuskastumisena. Lopulta köyhälle ei jää käteen muuta kuin puukko.

Research Blog Antarctica #158 – Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage

Monday, March 6th, 2017

Non-fiction: Alfred Lansing: Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (1959)

Written by the American journalist Alfred Lansing and published in 1959, Endurance is an account of one of the most famous stories in the history of Antarctic exploration, the failed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914. Shackleton attempted to traverse the Antarctic continent, but his ship was locked in ice before he got to shore, and was crushed. This forced him and his crew to move heavy small boats to the edge of the sea ice and then attempt to escape to safety in the stormiest seas in the world.

It’s a story told many times, but Lansing tells it very well, straightforwardly and simply, as if you were watching a movie of the events. Some of the quirkier details of the trip are missing, but Lansing has a good understanding of the minutiae and mistakes of daily expedition life. He interviewed surviving members of the expedition, giving his story a lot of human detail.

If you want to read an approachable and exciting account of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition, this is a good choice.

Research Blog Antarctica #157 – Quick, Before It Melts (the novel)

Monday, February 27th, 2017

Fiction: Philip Benjamin: Quick, Before It Melts (Random House, 1964)

Philip Benjamin was a New York Times reporter who had been to Antarctica twice when he published the novel Quick, Before It Melts, later made into a movie. The title is a joke based on the idea that the Antarctic is eternal, and that being worried about it melting is funny. In this regard, the world has changed.

It’s a comedy novel about a reporter who goes to the Antarctic as a guest of the U.S. operation there. In factual terms, it’s very faithful, with a lot of fun little detail. The story follows the broad pattern of many non-fiction Antarctic books, with the stop in New Zealand, arriving in the Antarctic, adventures there, and ending when the protagonist leaves.

The reporter and his friend contrive to get their girlfriends visit Antarctica, at that point pretty much a men-only continent. A Soviet scientist defects to New Zealand. The story is a product of its time and the tone of the book is laddish, but sometimes it’s still clever in a lighthearted way.

Research Blog Antarctica #154 – Riding the Ice Wind

Thursday, September 29th, 2016

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Non-fiction: Alastair Vere Nicoll: Riding the Ice Wind (I.B.Tauris 2010)

By now, books about moderns expeditions to Antarctica are a relatively big genre. Earlier examples on this blog can be found here, here and here. The challenge of this sort of book is that it’s always the same story.

1. Decide to go to Antarctica.

2. Engage in tedious fundraising.

3. Travel through the Antarctic continent, often in an attempt to do something new.

4. Gain important life lessons.

In Alastair Vere Nicoll’s book Riding the Ice Wind, there’s an added human element where Nicoll’s baby is going to be born roughly at the same time as he’s supposed to finish the expedition. Will he make it in time?

Nicoll is frustrating as a writer. He seems very honest and straightforward, and for much of the book, manhauling a sledge of provisions on Antarctica seems like hellish drudgery punctuated by moments of pure wonder. Yet Nicoll doesn’t really transcend the format of this type of a book, and in his more philosophical moments he’s very much on safe ground.

There’s one very interesting detail in the book. The route of Nicoll’s team goes through the South Pole and they stop at the American Amundsen-Scott station. They aren’t much impressed with it, and Nicoll mentions that the staff offhandedly says they’re using their scientific equipment to spy on the Chinese nuclear program by detecting the emissions that travel through the planet.

I’ve never read about this anywhere else, but it flies in the face of so much high-minded Antarctic rhetoric that I would very much like to know more.