06 July 2009

Antarctic arts program of the NSF

A few years ago, I found the web cam from the Australian research station in Antarctica at Mawson [left]. I was fascinated by the summer day, the winter night, and the experiences of the few people who live and work there summers and the fewer people (about 16) who live and work there during the dark of winter. I still look at the Mawson web cam regularly and read the weekly newsletter about what people are up to down below the Antarctic Circle.

That's one of the reasons I was attracted to Sarah Andrews' book In Cold Pursuit when I saw it on the shelf at the new Amery library. It's set in Antarctica.

More than a few years ago, I read Andrews' first novel, Tensleep. It was very good. I've read several of her books since, but none of them lived up to that first one. A couple were discouraging to me.

The hope of reading another really good book by Sarah Andrews is another reason I checked this one out.

Andrews is a geologist who has written nearly a dozen mystery novels. Em Hanson, a geologist who solves mysteries is the main character in most of them.

In this book, Em Hanson appears only in a few e-mails to a glaciologist grad student who arrives to do research at McMurdo Station in Antarctica only to discover that her advison (and principal investigator) has been arrested for murder and shipped back to the US.

Guess what?

Another geologist becomes an amateur slueth.

One of the strengths of this story is that grad student Valena Walker is not a lone wolf in solving the murders she learns about. An informal crew of academics and support personnel at McMurdo get involved in sorting out the clues and red herrings.

The story is a good one. There were too many characters to keep track of. The misleading clues were well done and believable. The main character was too anonymous. The story is well-told, but there are just a few too many geology lectures.

So this wasn't a disappointing book, but it doesn't live up to my memories of Tensleep.

If you read this one, tell us what you think.

Andrews wrote the novel after receiving a grant through the NSF Antarctic Artists and Writers Program. That suggests that she got to see the places she wrote about and meet people who worked in them. I trust her descriptions of McMurdo [right] and the research sites in the book. I also trust that her descriptions make it obvious that McMurdo (at least in summer) is much more like a small, well-connected city than the little family at Mawson Station.

Who knew there was an National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs that offered artists and writers grants? Is that a way to get more Congressional support? Or do the scientist-types think that artists and writers can help spread the results of scientific research?

I'm still intrigued and in awe of people who can work in a place where there's no escape for months from either the place or the people in the family.

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