Review: Giving the Cold Shoulder to Antarctica

Antarctica cover

Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson

I’ve been a fan of master science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson ever since the Mars Trilogy, which dealt with terraforming the Red Planet. Now that humanity is engaged in an accidental terraforming experiment on its own world, it was the right time for me to read Antarctica, one of Robinson’s lesser-known novels. I was curious how he treated the changes sure to come to the South Pole, because I’m looking at a similar scenario in my own current project, The Princes of Antarctica.

Published in 1997, Robinson’s story takes place more than 50 years later, just after the expiration of the 1959 Antarctic Treaty. The treaty and several other agreements set aside the entire continent as a nature and science reserve. But the politics of preservation versus wealth creation stalls renewal of the treaty, and a series of unexplained incidents sparks an informal investigation by an aide of an influential senator with progressive leanings. Robinson weaves his trademark mix of science, history, politics, and human aspiration into a sprawling narrative. Climate change overhangs the novel, making it an early example of the climate fiction / nature fiction genre. Continue reading

How to abandon a draft without feeling like a failure

Pink Floyd’s Time reminds us that time is limited. But false starts offer the promise of a second chance.

I scribbled my way through the first six and a half chapters of my latest project, The Princes of Antarctica, when I ran out of gas this week. The feeling was just like the shock and disappointment I had in 1987 as I drove up Interstate 5 from Redding, Calif., to see my girlfriend in Ashland, Ore. With no warning, the motor in my cherry red ‘66 Impala gave a few lurches and quit, forcing me to the shoulder. Gas was not reaching the carburetor. I was going nowhere. The same happened with the draft. Halfway through chapter seven, the motor in my head failed. I had to abandon 30-odd pages by the side of the road.

Inspiration is a devil armed with false promises. It shows you a shiny object but doesn’t tell you its worthless until you’ve played with it, sometimes for weeks or months. You can see the result in any writer’s trash, virtual or otherwise. Disgusted with what he sees, he rips the “half a page of scribbled lines” from the yellow pad and tosses it into the pile of other “plans that have come to naught.” (Thank you, Pink Floyd.) Understanding that the story is implausible or the characters boring can tear at a writers’ confidence. He may think the dream is lost, that the great thing he wanted to say is not so important.

Is a false start a sign of failure? No, it’s a signal for patience. You’ve left the starting block prematurely. Your idea may be sound, but the execution is broken. It’s okay to quit and begin again. For one writer’s perspective on false starts, read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s essay, “One Hundred False Starts,” published in 1933. For him, starting over was part of the game.

Fitzgerald advises to start with a compelling emotion from the writer’s experience. He doesn’t mean autobiography, but it helps if you know what you’re talking about. That’s what I did with the latest re-start of The Princes of Antarctica. With the emotion in mind (no spoilers), I plunged into a new opening on Thursday, and found the words flowing from my fingers. Here’s hoping for a fair start.