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Park Polar by Adam Roberts
(PS Publishing, 8/US$14, special signed edition, 109 pages, paperback; also available in hardback, 25/US$40; published July 2001.)

Not too many years from now, a complex ecosystem has been introduced into the cover scanAntarctic wastes. In the ice grows algae, on which wildebeest feed. In turn, lions hunt the wildebeest. McCullough, a genetic engineer working on introducing coprophagic snow kangaroos into the mix, arrives at a research station and finds herself in considerable danger.

At just over 100 pages (and an estimated 30,000 words), Park Polar is about half to a third the wordage of a novel, and I suspect might have been better off at a greater length. The novella is a particular form, and Roberts hasn't quite mastered it, on this evidence. The characterisation verges on the two-dimensional. Maybe men and women are indistinguishable under the layers of clothing required in such a harsh environment; in this story they blur into each other, sexist banter from the men notwithstanding. Of the major characters, station manager Natty is not far from a bull-dyke stereotype (she even has a beard), while McCullough is at the opposite femme extreme, irresolute and given to hysteria. Robert's prose is certainly competent without being especially stylish, though having said that Park Polar includes one of the worst sex scenes I've read recently.

Roberts's novella comes to life in its middle section, with a trek across the ice that's tense and plausibly dangerous. Along the way, one major character gets mauled, possibly fatally, by a lioness and the others have to get her back to safety. For twenty pages or so, Park Polar grips like a thriller when elsewhere it doesn't. In contrast, Roberts fumbles the revelation of his mystery in a two-page infodump, almost as if he'd run out of words and had to wrap up quickly. I suspect a longer work might develop theme and character more: there's certainly room for expansion on both counts. But as it is, it's an only intermittently engaging read.

Review by Gary Couzens

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© Gary Couzens 7 August 2002