Ambitious, daunting, uneven: Batchelor has assembled a near-satiric, woefully dense forecast of doomsday chaos, blending...

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THE BIRTH OF THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF ANTARCTICA

Ambitious, daunting, uneven: Batchelor has assembled a near-satiric, woefully dense forecast of doomsday chaos, blending various Norse myth-sagas with Beowulf, thoughtful attempts at a system of political ethics (cf. The Further Adventures of Halley's Comet, 1980) with sea-fiction à la Melville. In overall design, the book does have grace. It tells the story of one Grim Fiddle, born of a Swedish mother (Lamba Time-Thief) and an American draft-dodger (Peregrine Ide), who lives in late-1980s Sweden, an intriguing land of xenophobic fury--the leading edge of a world-collapse that involves cholera epidemics, a vast sea-borne class of ""the wretched"" (unable to find a land to take them in), and a precipitous moral drop into a new Dark Ages. Batchelor, employing a character named Charity Bentham, a Nobel Prize winner, pegs much of this barbarity on the steady rise of a new utilitarianism: pleasures taken, pains discounted, charities hypocritical. And when Grim Fiddle is exiled, he finds himself involved with one government after another that inevitably slides into barbarity, thanks to ""New Benthamite"" influence. From Sweden, Grim and crew go by sailing ship and finally reach the Falkland Islands, still in turmoil--with fighting between the ex-British Volunteers and the ""Patties"" (Patagonians). Driven from there, and met half-way by encroaching black ice, they make port next in Antarctica--which, by 1999, has become the dumping ground for the world's sick, poor, hopeless, and dissident. But the republic of the title, headed by Grim, is a deplorably murky affair--because Batchelor has by this time so wrapped himself in the resonances of political essay and Norse mythological parallel that he's unable to deliver anything like a clear, vivid narrative. Too pretentious and clotted for most readers, then, especially after the engaging first third; but the sea-scenes are picturesque, the futurology is provocative, and those inclined will appreciate the tart, even moving, ruminations on ethics.

Pub Date: May 6, 1983

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983