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Adam Roberts is the author of a growing number of science fiction novels, short stories, essays and other writings. This site contains not just his blog, but everything you could ever want to know about everything Adam has ever published. And more...

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Park Polar

Published By:
PS Publishing, UK [2001]
25.00 Hb / 10.00 TPb
1902880293 / 1902880285
Currently Out of Print

Overpopulation has crammed the world full-to-bursting and the last spaces for wild animals have long since been used up.

Only Park Polar and Park Antarctica remain, two natural wildernesses where beasts can roam free. But these are genetically-engineered creatures, created and patented by the giant companies that run the world.

McCullough, a company scientist, makes a routine visit to Park Polar to introduce a species of kangaroo to the snow-wastes. But competition between the companies is fierce and can often be fatal... and when terrorists descend, threatening the fragile equilibrium of the northern park, matters spiral rapidly and violently out of control.

McCullough is soon running for her life through the hostile wilderness.


[Reviews To Follow]

Adam Says:

This novella was published by Pete Crowther's excellent small press, PS Publishing, at the beginning of' 02. The story is a fable premised on overpopulation and corporate control of the globe. The two Earth's poles are the last open spaces, and have been given over to genetically modified animals - snow wildebeests, snow lions and hyenas, with cold-tolerant algae living in the ice at the bottom of the food chain. A genetic engineer employed by one company is on a trip to Park Polar to introduce a new breed of snow kangaroos, when she gets caught up in a series of violent killings; suspicion, pursuit, and the unforgiving arctic environment follow in this fast-paced adventure whodunit.

There are dangers in attempting 'high literate sf', which is to say taking pains to make your writing both as technically polished and as innovative as possible: dangers of over-writing, of pretentiousness, of being boring. I am aware of it, although my instincts and my tastes pull me back towards it. But I also want to try and write something different each time I start a book - different, whilst still recognisably mine, as it were. With Park Polar I wanted to do a pace-led narrative and whodunit story. It's not like anything else I've written, but I hope it holds a reader's attention. My friend, the extraordinarily talented SF author Roger Levy, wrote the introduction to the novella.

An Extract:

The snow buggy under her throbbed with more vibration than McCullough found comfortable. The fillings in her teeth were rattling, and she grimaced. But twisting the handle and lurching forward, the quality of the vibration changed, became more comfortable, even pleasant. Suddenly she was in motion, sweeping forward. The feeling was immediately exhilarating. She felt like flying. The white ground simply slid by. It was effortless.

The rush of air filled her ears with crinkly white noise, and pretty soon the cold of the environment started to make itself felt. The cold air felt even colder in motion. It froze her face right up inside her nostrils, a bitter ache that spread through her sinuses. She kept blinking her eyes, but they watered copiously, and the tears froze in little spikes around her eyes, little crystals that broke away and scattered with every crease of her blinking. With her left hand she tried pulling the edges of her hood closer around her face, but having only one hand on the handlebar wobbled the buggy, and McCullough's heart jerked in panic. She rammed her hand back down on the handle, and tried to block out her discomfort.

Ahead of her she could see the other two buggies, throwing up little bow waves of ice as they slid forward. She tried turning her head back and found her neck so stiff it barely moved. It was as if the cold were literally freezing her spine, a scary thought. She tried again, with a creaking sound, or maybe it was on a sensation, in her discs. She was able to see a jolting blurry image of the station behind her. It was already far away, a little black blot against the greater white. She couldn't see if any of her roos had ventured out of the corral. Perhaps they were all going to stay inside, too timid or stupid to move. Perhaps they were all going to starve to death.

She brought her face forward again, and hit rough ice. The sudden turbulence was terrifying; the buggy bucked and squirmed like a live thing. She was thrown upwards, clutched desperately at the handles and came slamming back down on the saddle. But then things were smooth again, rattling forward. McCullough's heart was pounding. She was, she realised, wailing; but the sound was lost in the air around her. She stopped making the noise.

After a little while, she became slightly more comfortable with the ride. Another patch of rough ice, and she started to feel she was on top of the experience. Then she tried experimenting, accelerating and pulling herself up alongside Natty's buggy. She thought about waving, but lifting her left hand from the handle even for a moment was too scary. So she contented herself with nodding her head, uncertain whether the motion could even be seen in the volumniousness of her padded hood and cover-all.

They biked on for a length of time; McCullough couldn't be sure how long. There was something mantric about the experience after a while, something almost hypnotic. The pain in her face balanced the ache from her stitches, and she slid into a sort of endurance state. It was uncomfortable, rattling, even terrifying, but McCullough went on with it.

She watched the two buggies ahead of her move gently from side to side in motion relative to hers. When she saw Kodwo peel away to the right, and Natty follow her, she readied herself to do likewise. But then she saw Kodwo pull back left and resume her former course, with Natty following her back. She decided it must have been a momentary aberration, and that she would go straight through.

Then there was a loud rushing noise, and her speed fell away. The buggy was juddering violently, and with a lurch the back came up. McCullough was almost too startled to be scared, but she was right up in the air, she was actually flying forward. Some below-thought instinct told her that now was not a time to try and grab on to the handles, and she let go. The world tipped up, white sky changing places with white ground. She splashed into freezing slush.

She lay for a moment, not hurt but stunned. But stabbingly cold water was starting to seep into her clothing, and she struggled upwards as if stung. She was standing ankle deep in slushy water, her buggy buried nose first in the stuff a few metres from her. Still not properly registering what had happened she staggered forward and reached her machine. Its engine was still running, the back treads whirring. She had to crouch to find the switch and turn it off.

By now Kodwo and Natty had circled round and were twenty metres away. They killed their engines, climbed off and made their way over to them. When she arrived, Kodwo was angry. 'What the fuck were you playing at? Didn't you see me change course to avoid this?'

McCullough was just too poleaxed to say anything in reply. She mumbled something, and pushed her shoulder against the body of the buggy, trying to push it back horizontal.

'You have to watch out for polynya like this,' Kodwo was saying. 'These are the trickiest things.'

Somewhere deep in McCullough's head there was the germ of an anger starting to glow, well it's not my fault, you didn't warn me. But all she could do was blink stupidly and mumble. Her face was pulsing with pain where the cold seemed to have infiltrated deep into her skull, the throbbing of her stitches giving her the impression that the cold had penetrated straight through and out the back. Cold water was dribbling down inside her cover-all, snaking death-chill fingers down her belly, her sides, her legs. She felt miserable.

'There's no point in pushing like that,' snapped Kodwo, still angry. 'I'll get a line from my buggy.'

She went back to her buggy and payed out a thin steel cable, fixing it to the hook at the back of McCullough's machine. Then she trudged grumpily back to hers, started it up again and rode it slowly away. There was a very human sucking sound and the buggy lurched and came free.

Kodwo dragged it clear of the ice-pond, and McCullough trudged after it. She was, she realised with shame, crying. She never cried. But now she felt cold all over her body, and her frozen trembling felt very like the fear that probably also fed into the experience. She tried to still herself as she climbed back onto the machine, but her elation at travelling was long gone.

The buggy started again, which was a blessing, and she gently coaxed it round before gunning the acceleration again.

They were off once more. This time McCullough's discomfort was much more acute, much more like actual pain. She was shivering so hard she found herself wondering if she were having a fit. She struggled to keep Kodwo and Natty in view, and to follow every slight deviation in their course exactly. Time bled into nothing, into pain and misery. White sky, white ground, the whiteness of suffering. A desert experience, the human body reduced to a desert, a monocrop of agony. On and on.

On and on. The emptiness of the landscape, which had once seemed to her a tonic away from the crush of the over- populated world, now gnawed unpleasantly at her consciousness. The nothingness of it.

She went over several portions of rough ice, and it was much worse than before, the experience jarring her joints. Now she clung on with desperation rather than with command. Now all she wanted was the ride to stop, for her to be able to go somewhere warm and curl up and sleep. Her head beat time with pulse-throbs of pain.

Kodwo turned through nearly ninety degrees, and McCullough carefully followed suit. After the fact she saw why: a two metres crevasse. They skirted it for what must have been a kilometre before it started to shrink. Seen side on in motion, the twin sides of the gap coming together had the weird look of two great white lips closing in a smile.

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