Having been to Antarctica myself, albeit via NZ to McMurdo rather then via Chile or South Africa and working for a US Government contractor rather the...moreHaving been to Antarctica myself, albeit via NZ to McMurdo rather then via Chile or South Africa and working for a US Government contractor rather then a for-profit, I find this book odd. Part of it is because she's explaining an entirely foreign experience to me. ANI (now ALE) is generally hard to fathom for United States Antarctic Program regulars at McMurdo, South Pole, Scott Base, and elsewhere. The happenings of ANI/ALE is pretty much out of the realm of what we even consider on a day to day basis. The USAP is entirely devoted to science, which although is not logistically true as--like any support pyramid--there are far more non-scientist then scientist. What's more this devotion to science comes from the Antarctic Treaty, which limits government's objectives in Antarctica to science and excludes military and mineral extraction.
In this way my conception of Antarctica is driven by science, the various national bases, and the research that is going on. My time on the Ice was dominated by the interventions of science, the scientists, and the logistics to make science happen. Alexa gives the impression that the comings and goings of various clients is a normal way of thinking. Somehow this is slightly baffling. Not to say it's not true, but it's just not what an USAP person would think of a normal Ice experience. In this I enjoyed the book as it's challenges my perspective on Antarctica and reminds me it's a vast continent with a fair number of other international bases, and USAP being the largest Ice researching program, isn't the only experience people have.
On second thought I have to concede that the landscape dominated my mind as it is simply so striking, followed by what I previously said dominated my time. In this Alexa reflected my memory, as the challenge, beauty, starkness, and vastness of the continent continues to be repeated throughout the book. However, even in conveying the striking nature of Antarctica, this book feels more whiny and gossipy then unique. Yes people did gossip and whine while I was in Antarctica, indeed gossip was the news of the town as it was big enough for news to happen, but small enough not to need a daily conveyance of news. Yet to me, Alexa spends an inordinate amount of time pissing and whining about her situation, about the uncertainty with and lack of confidence about her situation in Blue 1. This strikes me as daft, as most people going to Antarctica for the first time, had no idea of what to really expect about going to the ice. This in spite of research on the conditions, which Alexa seemed to do very little of.
In her defense, setting up camp in Antarctica is rather different from living at a permanent base and shares small similarities with your camp in the woods. Antarctica makes you adhoc and troubleshoot due to the rough nature of it, but a field camp on the Ice is a very different civilization. I find it rather amazing that they sent her as a FNG to a field camp as the cook and put her in charge of logistics for the meals. Field experience as a trekker and cook would have been rather necessary experience I would assume, and she did manage rather well in spite of this if her telling is accurate.
I realize that it's odd to critique a book that's talking about the 00-01 season, when my Ice time was 05-06 and it's now 2010. I realize also that people may not like the "morally questionable" with Ewan, however I have to say that this is not an uncommon experience for the USAP side. Dating on the ice, including normal singles, is a strange experience more akin to combat romances then to normal life given the cooped up proximity, isolation from normal civilization, and distinctness from an otherwise normal life.