Antarctica, Bare-Faced Messiah

Neither of these books quite qualifies as science fiction, but they’re close enough for reviewing purposes. I picked up Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson for research purposes only. As an introduction to what can be done in near-future Antarctica fiction it was useful; as a novel it left something to be desired.

I was expecting to hate the characters as much as I grew to hate the immortal cast of the Mars trilogy, so when they started out sympathetic and intriguing, I was pleasantly surprised. The novel was fuzzy around the edges, though; I couldn’t tell when this near future was supposed to be happening. No dates were given and it seemed too near in general. The voices confused me as well: multiple characters would use idiosyncratic capitalized expressions like “Ice Planet” and “Götterdämmerung,” or carry on untagged dialogues, making it hard to distinguish between people.

The politics and feng shui weren’t sufficiently integrated into the plot, so whole chapters had a telling-not-showing feel to them. If it were me, I wouldn’t have introduced the ecoterrorists so early on in the novel; I would have let their depredations develop as more of a mystery. Instead of being the climax of the mystery, the man-against-nature results fill out the middle section of the novel. The end is devoted to politics.

That, also might have been more interesting had there been any conflict, but as this raving review points out, Antarctica is utopian in theme. There are no bad guys, so it’s not clear why any political wrangling is necessary. Even the ecoteurs turn out to be good guys who didn’t want to hurt any people in their ecotage. The bad corporations and politicians never appear, so there’s no real conflict after the man-against-ice resolution.

Even though I like feng shui and a lot of the politics involved, the presentation just wasn’t exciting enough for me. I have to agree with Steven Silver’s review that Antarctica works better as a travelogue than as a novel.

Bare-Faced Messiah is an on-line biography of L. Ron Hubbard I’ve been reading in fits and starts for a long time. It just ended at Hubbard’s mysterious death. I recall some wild speculation on the topic of his death from other anti-Scientology sites, so I was both impressed and disappointed with the mild ending of Bare-Faced Messiah. Truth is stranger than theology in this case (and that’s saying a lot when Scientology is involved).

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