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Deep Ice

by Karl Kofoed

(BeWrite, $15.33, 339 pages, paperback; September 2003.)

With a few short applications of the English language, Karl Kofoed transports your cover scanimagination to the desolate whiteness of Antarctica. The action begins in one of the remotest places yet left in the world and, while we are introduced to this environment, we are also presented with the austere mind of this novel's protagonist, Henry Gibbs. It is a troubled mind, yet not one that is easily distracted from survival in a harsh world.

At one level, Deep Ice is a technothriller based upon our vulnerability to nuclear terrorism on a global scale. Kofoed just barely stretches the realm of possibility with a villain who, while he feels plausible, possesses some maniacal traits that are tantalizingly just out of reach. I would have liked a little more playing with the Inca references -- perhaps there is a link between South American legends and the catastrophic flooding of continental coastlines. That is the threat that faces the world as Gibbs's nemesis proposes to detonate strategically placed nuclear devices on the Ross Ice Shelf.

At another level, this isn't a story that dwells on technology but on the human dimension in a world overtaken by human technological developments. Can a man left for dead in the Antarctic ice stand a ghostly chance of finding and thwarting a powerful figure who vanishes from the frosty stage and who seems capable of holding the world's intelligence community at bay? Kofoed takes us on this journey, all the while developing his hero's personality and filling his life with novel encounters. While the characters fulfil their roles in a straightforward manner, and we don't really get to know their motivations very well, they move the narrative forward briskly.

At one point I found myself wishing for some maps of the Antarctic showing Gibbs's odyssey on the ice between the site where he was shot and McMurdo Station. My curiosity was piqued by a desire to understand where one would place nuclear devices to promote the separation of the Ross Ice Shelf from the continent. Then I thought: In these troubled times, do I want someone to publish such an educated guess? It would seem that Deep Ice, while still fantastical, may hit a little close to home as we wage a "war on terrorism" against enemies who truly defy rationality. This is all the more troublesome as I realize that Deep Ice was conceived and first drafted well before September 2001.

In today's chaotic world scene, reading Deep Ice provides a kind of thoughtful escapism. It takes you away from the headlines. It flows nicely and carries you with it. It is filled with humanity in a range of characters that all seem to reinforce the viewpoint that it takes just one right-minded person in the right place at the right time to stave off disaster. Which makes me feel like I've just left out those with a left-brained emphasis? Perhaps, as the Navajo imply, it is all a matter of balance.

Kofoed doesn't seem to have any problem with his balance as a writer. I envy his facility in harvesting carefully plotted fruit from the seed of a wild idea. With Kofoed, it isn't so much about being on the edge of your seat but more about savouring the lingering moments of realism between coincidental plot developments. Take a few hours to meet Henry Scott Gibbs of the Antarctic and you'll find yourself thinking about what might happen in this world if we didn't have people who manage to maintain their balance in the face of overwhelming irrationality.

Review by Greg Barr.

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