Figure & ground redefine the thriller for Tobias Buckell
Arctic Rising is a roller-coaster ride in a daunting but plausible near-future world
What if our planet suddenly gained a new continent? Imagine Atlantis unexpectedly rising, seaweed-cloaked, from the depths. --Imagine the political upheavals, the land rushes, resource booms, profiteering and euphoria and misery.
Impossible? Well, what if the Earth suddenly acquired a new ocean, and the traditional distances between ports suddenly skewed and shifted? Wouldn't that be the same as gaining a new continent? --After all, it would mean new coastlines, new ports and destinations for rail lines; areas of countryside formerly lying fallow suddenly opening up: new frontiers in neglected corners of supposedly-settled countries.
Like those figure-and-ground visual illusions, oceans define the land. Tobias Buckell knows this--so when he writes a thriller set in an open Arctic ocean, he lays out incredible possibilities for us to savour. Suddenly places like Pandora Island and the Barendts sea become common place names, even destinations. This is half the delight of Arctic Rising: the exploration of a literal new world brought to life by extreme global warming.
The other half of the delight is that within this setting, Arctic Rising is a straight-ahead, no-nonsense old-school thriller. You're not going to have to learn quantum mechanics to get what's going on here: Anika Duncan, airship pilot and fiercely independent loner, has been framed and decides to get her reputation back. She does so in true James Bond fashion, but she's nothing like Bond--she's black, a lesbian, and beholden to no state or secret society. The book is just her against the world, and that's what makes it great.
Buckell has taken a great idea and run with it. He owns this new Arctic sea, and Anika is a true 21st century heroine who just might sustain a whole series of works set there.
A new ocean defines new continents, new nations--and a whole new brand of thriller.