In a future wracked by floods and social upheaval, a widower tries to make a new life for himself and his daughter when the continent of Antarctica is thrown open to settlement in Lanning’s (A Spider Sat Beside Her, 2017) second book in a planned trilogy.
Climate change has gone unremedied by greedy corporate interests, causing rising sea levels and mass flooding in the United States. The superrich live in well-guarded enclaves while crime is rampant in the rest of America. Such crime claimed the life of the wife of John Barrous, a former corporate worker who’s now disenchanted by the system. He takes his adolescent daughter with him to a place where one might create a functioning, free-market democracy: Antarctica. Global warming has made it habitable and arable, and the United Nations allows a sanctioned, if dangerous, “land rush” for aspiring farmer-settlers, much like Oklahoma in the Old West. In the mostly wide-open frontier, where outlaws and stampedes are real dangers, John stakes a claim and finds a potential love interest in Lowry Walker, a strong-willed woman with a painful past who’s equally determined to keep Antarctica free of mega-capitalist exploitation. With little alteration, this story could well have been set in pioneer days. Instead of a rapacious railroad baron, there’s Napoleon-admiring villain Lorenzo Durant, complete with a robotic horse; he’s an oligarch intent on selling the nascent nation out to corrupt Russian interests. References to melted ice caps, politics, and a multicultural supporting cast keeps the narrative feeling current, but underneath, it’s an emotional, retro-feeling prairie romance in which the two homesteader leads circle each other but just can’t commit, like folks in a country-and-western ballad. It may be a mixed bag for sci-fi fans expecting epic hard science, spectacular worldbuilding, cool technology, and mind-blowing concepts instead of achy-breaky hearts trying to do right in a new heartland. But the oater atmosphere is rendered without genre self-consciousness, unlike Andre Norton’s Beast Master series, for example. Here, the comfortable Wild West formula, sure pacing, and sympathetic protagonists take well to the Antarctic topsoil.
Offbeat global-warming sci-fi that taps the spirit of cowboy romances instead of the usual dystopianism.