Friday, April 11, 2008

writing antarctica


"The White Darkness," by Geraldine McCaughrean, is the story of Sym Wates, a 14-yr. old British girl, and her Uncle Victor, actually an honorary title, and their perilous journey across the Antarctica to find the legendary Symms's Hole, a portal to a hollow Earth.

When Sym was a child, her father was a business partner of Victor, and Victor's obsession with finding Symms's Hole became the father's own dream, to the point of giving over his life savings and property to help finance their future discovery expedition. Victor even persuaded her father to place Sym on a regular regimen of antibiotics, to ensure her health, and protect any inhabitants of Earth's interior against contamination when he would take her to explore the interior. This drug regimen has probably caused Sym's near-deafness, requiring her to wear hearing aids. Victor also sees to Sym's education in all things pertaining to Antarctica. It is during this lonely, introspective period that her reading leads her to converse with a Captain Lawrence Titus Oates, who perished ninety years before, on Scott's expedition to the South Pole. When Sym's father dies, Victor dupes Sym away from her mother to begin the portal search in Antarctica. He has enlisted the services of a Norwegian writer, who has located the probable location of Symms's Hole using satellite imagery, and who is accompanied by his son. Thus far Victor seems a somewhat sinister figure who seems to have an alarming interest in Sym. Is he for real about this expedition?

In Antarctica, the situation becomes even more bizarre. Victor manages to drug the other members of his sightseeing tour, and commandeers the tour's tracked vehicle to transport himself, Sym, the Norwegian and the son, in a mad dash across Antarctica to the reputed portal location. Without giving up too much of the story, it can be said that the writer and his son aren't who we thought them to be, and Victor becomes ever more possessed. It may only be because of her voluminous reading of the historical Antarctica expeditions and scientific lore that Sym is able to navigate and endure countless hardships. It is also a testament to McCaughrean's writing that she is able to spin a plot and give us characters that can absorb us in such a wasteland of nothingness. Worth a read.

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