This novel published in 1998 is set in an imagined Antarctica of the early twenty-first century
There is an odd feeling of reading about a future that isn't quite the future but nor is it the present that it's somehow supposed to be. Other than that though, this is an excellent piece of speculative fiction - gripping and meticulously researched (Robinson spent time in Antarctica as part of the US Antarctic Program's Artist and Writer Program).
This is an Antarctica fought over by African oil companies and eco terrorists while scientists continue their studies and an international group of 'ferals' try to develop an indigenous way of life on the continent. Meanwhile Val leads groups of tourists on extreme adventures, recreating the journeys of the original polar explorers. Stories of these explorers intercut the narrative in a very effective manner, giving the reader a sense of the real history of the continent.
The narrative is very intense in places, there are long passages outlining scientific experiments, political manoeverings and an expedition that Val leads, which doesn't go to plan.
The technology is worked into the narrative really well, wristwatch computers, recordings a trek participant makes for TV-masks and the intelligent fabrics that everyone's clothes are made from. Similarly the ideas around the ferals' construction of a potentially permanent way of life are well explored.
It's a compelling read and one that makes the reader think deeply about the future of the world's last great wilderness. And as this month marks the centenary of Scott's failed expedition to reach the South Pole, what better time to read this book?
Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson published by Voyager
I reviewed this book for Brighton Blogger's 2012 Reading Challenge. I also reviewed The Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius.