by Karen Dionne
(very good; top 50% of SciThri)
Year published: 2008
Category: science thriller
Tech rating (out of 5):
A scheme to harvest fresh water from the Antarctic ice cap using microwaves beamed from orbiting satellites to melt icebergs runs into trouble from an ecoterrorist, rival companies, and killer rats.
Debut novel by “environmental thriller” writer Karen Dionne focuses on the pending global crisis over inadequate sources of fresh water. Opens with an intense and well-constructed action sequence in which a ship off the coast of Newfoundland tries to tow an iceberg in a storm for the purpose of harvesting and selling the water. This scene sets up the environmental twist, that the global shortage of pure water is prompting companies to get it from polar ice.
The main setting is an Antarctic research station. No single protagonist drives the plot. Instead, the reader is introduced to a pragmatic environmentalist who works for a water-harvesting company with an inventive—and risky—strategy, and also several characters living at the Antarctic research station. The plot moves fast with plenty of action, giving it page-turning propulsion but not much heft. The main tension-inducing threat in the story is killer Antarctic rats. Really. Dionne investigated this and says there is a scientific basis for this phenomenon, but possible or not, I had a hard time accepting this dramatic plot element as anything other than comical. In Freezing Point, characters easily survive plunges in the Antarctic Ocean (a truly life-threatening event), but they’re taken out by ferocious packs of man-eating, ice-dwelling rats?
On top of that, the rats play a key role in the implausibly amplified threat that contaminated Antarctic iceberg water will usher in the end of the world if a tanker-full of it reaches port. Finally, a convoluted subplot involving a cure for diabetes was technically correct on basic principles but absurd in practical detail. These elements strained my ability to suspend disbelief to the “breaking” point. If you aren’t bothered by this kind of thing, then you’ll enjoy the fast pace and imaginative premise of this thriller.
For another novel about water-borne germs in the polar regions, read: Cold Plague by Daniel Kalla.
Karen Dionne’s environmental thrillers:
Freezing Point (2008); Boiling Point (2011)