On a US research base in Antarctica two scientists vanish while undertaking a routine dive. Their last heard words were about hearing whistling - like that of the whales commonly found around the continent. An exploratory team sent in to evacuate their bodies also vanishes, after reporting what looks like a spaceship, then desperately calling for help.
When Shane 'Scarecrow' Schofield leads his team of Marines into Wilkes Ice Station, he's not sure what to expect - nothing new for the experienced 32-year-old lieutenant. But he never expected his team to be decimated by a pod of killer whales, let alone discovering a team of French counterparts, members of the elite Premiere Régiment Parachutiste d'Infanterie de Marine - the French equivalent of the SAS or SEALs - hell-bent on taking over the station, and its find, for themselves.
I had heard about Ice Station a couple of years ago - self-published by its then-unknown author, who designed the cover to resemble best seller action novels, he hawked it to major book sellers until it took off, making Reilly a hero to unknown writers and a legend in Australian publishing.
However something in me resisted reading it, until Ice Station was featured a couple of years ago as one of the 'Books Alive' novels - available for $5 with any other book purchase, as part of an annual Australian reading promotion. And still it sat on my shelves, until my trip.
And now I know why.
Filled with unnecessary italics, painful exposition and a choppy, would-be cliff-hanger style, I could only make it to page 119 (not even the end of a chapter!) of its almost 540 pages before having my fill. And we hadn't even got to the killer aliens, or whatever it is that drilled holes in the ice and killed the scientists. The exposition about France's unwillingness to participate in NATO and its eagerness to unite Europe as part of a group withdrawal from that organisation (out of concern at US dominance) was clumsy and partisan.
This ambitious novel has clearly tried to cover all the best-seller bases - an American cast of heroes, international intrigue, elite armed forces (with two female members, no less), a familiar but under-used enemy (the devious French), an unusual locale, and the requisite plucky child in danger. But I found the writing tired, overworked, unsubtle and obvious. To whit:
"From the second it exploded, Schofield knew that this detonation was different to the first one. It wasn't like the short, contained blast of a grenade. It had more resonance to it, more substance. It was the sound of something large exploding...
"It was the sound of one of the air-conditioning cylinders exploding!"
There's one scene where we're supposed to be concerned about the fate of a Marine swimming from a killer whale - Mother (not because she's maternal, but short for Mother Fucker, because that's just how tough she is) almost makes it, but at the last minute the whale's teeth close over her leg, just below the knee. But if you don't know the characters, and if the writing's gotten in the way of the story, then you really just don't give a shit. And the only emotion I have about this novel is disappointment that it cost me $5. - Alex