Fiction Reviews

Ice Tomb

(2004) Deborah Jackson, The Invisible College Press, CAN$24.95/ US$15.95, pbk, 323 pp, ISBN 1-931-46819-2

In the near future, 2015, a hot spot appears beneath Antarctica appears on a satellite tracking system. The US team from a not too distant Antarctic scientific post is sent and finds an underground complex. Then suddenly their transmission ceases. Meanwhile NASA is establishing its first Moonbase. Vulcanologist, Erica Daniels, is sent by NASA to Antarctica but soon developments there would link them to those on the Moon. Meanwhile she has to contend with professional rivalry and a couple of amorous bouts while the mystery mounts and a small US military team gets in the way.

Canadian Deborah Jackson has written a few books for children that tend to contain a dash of science. With Ice Tomb she has moved her target readership upwards to young teenagers, and for them has produced a gripping adventure that also makes for a reasonable (so-called) 'young adult' SF read. Older readers will find some of her (fortunately occasional) turn of phrase facile. For instance, talking of the geologist a character says, 'I could see the lava spewing out of her eyes', and the geologist herself '"Sure", she snapped. like foaming boils of lava on Mount Erebus.' Langford's Thog would have a field day. The plotting is also a very contrived, but this will probably not matter a jot to young teenagers, especially as the rest of her writing style conveys the story with fluidity. But will today's teenagers know what a fax machine is? I wonder, and even I have never ever come across one at all like that described well into the book! (This point is, as readers will find, pertinent.) Nonetheless, adult SF regulars will very easily guess the book's ending by the end of chapter one, so that what kept me going was to see if I was right (I was) and whether everything would be resolved (it was) convincingly (it wasn't). But will teenagers know or mind? Probably not. Many readers seem not to mind plots that do not hang together. After all Kevin Anderson sells, and Jackson's Ice Tomb plot is far more logical (even if contrived) than Anderson's solo efforts. Teenagers could well lap this up.

However my big criticism is aimed firmly at the publishers (not the author). A book with a geological dimension and an Earth-Moon mission needs to distinguish between 'Earth' and 'earth' (the proper and common noun) - though this mistake is all too frequent these days (and Concat regulars will have heard me bang on about it before). Also the publisher's fault is the picture of a polar bear on the cover. Polar bears are found in Arctic and not in the Antarctic. Argggh! A Canadian publisher of all, with so much of that country straddling the Arctic circle, really should know this!

Publisher issues aside, were I back at school I would probably welcome Ice Tomb. Indeed as an adult when it comes to the science, I really can't seriously fault this. It was reasonably researched. In fact I wondered whether she had read Blankenship et al., (1993) Active volcanism beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. Nature 361, 526-9? Big Brownie points here even if I have ice sheet stability problems with a part subterranean Antarctic base. Ditto personal problems with an episode of geological timing mentioned which was (northern hemisphere dominated Younger Dryas aside) one of climatic and ice sheet change as we were coming out of the last glacial, but your average SF reader (even if a scientist other than one into climatology of biosphere science) simply would not know this. Ditto the iridium record.

It is clear, from the inside back blurb, that Deborah Jackson has a hankering to develop her writing, has a fondness for science in fiction, and to break out of children's writing into adult SF. With Ice Tomb she has at least begun to come part of the way. It will be interesting to see what she gives us in future years, though will have to develop her plotting skills or stick to a readership for whom this is less important.

Jonathan Cowie

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