Bookcase Project Book: 11 Ice – Stories of Survival from Polar Exploration, Edited by Clint Willis
Book 11: Ice – Stories of Survival from Polar Exploration, Edited by Clint Willis, Adrenaline, 1999
Polar Exploration fascinates me. I intend to get myself to the Arctic one of these days, but until then, I’ll need to satisfy my obsession with stories. I found this book in a Free Book place, you know, one of them stores where they give away books (3 maximum, mind) that are otherwise going to be pulped. It was in-between crumbling Mills and Boons and stained, thin SF novels with shit plots and dire characters. And I tell you what, I am glad that I rummaged for it because it proved to be a belter.
Much of the book is about Scott and his long, doomed march to the South Pole, and that’s what peaked my interest the most, as you’ll see soon. But there are samples from Ernest Shacklton too, and Richard Byrd, who writes about a near-breakdown due to the stress of spending a winter along at the South Pole. You live and learn.
We cannot even begin to image what the majority of the men in this book went through. If any of us, in this day and age, go out into the frozen lands, we should not be allowed to complain about the cold or isolation, the stress and the struggle. The equipment we can get our hands on, and the medical, psychological and technological advances that have been made over the past 100 years ensure that we are equipped with the best resources, help and guidance possible. We need to remember this and make the most of everything that we have at our disposal. We should never take it for granted.
Most of the time when I was reading this, my toes were curling and my forehead was creased to hell. Often I had to pause and put the book down for a few moments. There is a photo of Titus Oates, the most intriguing member of Scott’s team, and I was utterly captivated by it. I must have thumbed back to it at least a hundred times or so. The look in his eyes, of something going on where we can’t see it. The photo is timeless. It could have been taken yesterday. I soon discovered that I’m not the only one with an infatuation for this extraordinary man. Geraldine McCaughrean explored one girls adoration for Oates in her novel The White Darkness.
Scott’s Journals were difficult to read, primarily because I felt so damn sorry for the poor buggers. Here Scott describes Oates’s last few hours. ‘He did not – would not – give up hope till the very end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he work in the morning – yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since.’ Francis Spufford, an author who wants us all to know about the men on Scott’s team wrote a heartbreaking account of Scott’s final hours, as he lay in his tent, the final members of his team both dead. ‘Oates is a white hummock now somewhere a little to the side of the line of march. And Wilson and Bowerslie one each side of Scott in the tent, their sleeping bags pulled over their faces. How many hours ago he does not know, the breathing first of one and then of the other turned briefly ragged and then stopped. The breath sighed out and never drew again. Except for the silence they might be sleeping.’
Heart stopping, isn’t it. Well, this is what you get throughout the book. Try and get your hands on it. If you have a good knowledge of Polar Exploration already, it doesn’t matter. I’m pretty sure that you’ll get something new from this anthology. And for those of you who are new to the subject, well, you are going to be transported to a new world entirely.