By Richard Marshall.
The barest bones: ‘There are zeppelins over South Kensington and boat people in the South Atlantic. Among them are Emily and daughter Jenny, travelling south to safety and a reunion with John, who has gone ahead to find work. They travel with Browning, a sailor who has already saved their lives more than once. In the slang of their post-melt world, Emily and Jenny are refugees known as ‘mangoes’, a corruption of the saying ‘man go south’.
This work is analogous to An Mhuir and Cheilteach and An Mor Keltek and Ar Mor Keltiek and La Mer Celtique and the Celtic Sea that hoves off the Atlantic and the south coast of Ireland, bounded to the East by St George’s Channel with stranger limits over again at the Bristol Channel, the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay, Wales, Cornwall, Devon, Brittany and the Continental Shelf. It falls to immense depths. It’s best understood if you turn your map so that North is where you usually have East. His story is a submerged energy. It is a trap disguised as a benign aside.
A man called Hurley took pictures of Shackleton when the boat went down in the ice. Hurley on the ‘Endurance’ was liked by no one and intensely disliked by some. Yet oddly, he was well liked everywhere else. We know that something is not right here. Albertopolis Disparu is an early chapter from 2009. By chapter 3 we get to the discovery of an unpublished Edwardian science fiction story found, we are told, whilst White was researching Shacklelton’s Antarctic expedition aboard the ‘Endurance’ of 1914. But I’m peering at the pictures Hurley took and see another man, not Hurley, not Shackleton, but Worsley. And in his face another presence, a shadow man whose story slithers around in the background. He is a ghostly warning. The fourth man is Oberleutenant zur See Alfred Arnold.
Oil paints and a banjo. Tony White implants images of Frank Hurley’s moving images in some detonating psychic happening in Swedenborg’s House just off from the British Museum, London. The pictures seem to be moving. We see penguins reflected in a pool in South Georgia and a penguin rookery. Shackleton’s boats are being hauled across the ice to Graham Land after the crushing of the ‘Endurance’ . The relief of the party on Elephant Island is clear. Worsley and Shackleton stand on the hull of the crushed ‘Endurance’ but we can’t hear what they are saying.
Then something different. We see the image of a boat and then something deathly creeping across the monochrome phantoms. Some revenant stories produce phantoms. They haunt themselves. This one is Alfred Arnold’s. He wakes from his nightmare, still a young student in Heidelberg University. He has seen the cold dark waters of the Irish sea and torn nets. He hears the screams of dying men as visible white holes and goes blind. It is a vision of dark catastrophe. He wakes covered in skin dust.
White’s psychic tricks pull me back to the series of images of the Chilean tug Yelcho arriving off Elephant Island . The ship’s bow is still on display in Puerto Williams. The Yahgan are the indigenous people from there. There is only one full-blooded Yahgan left since her sister died in 2005. Despite the very cold climate the Yahgan wore few clothes before Europeans colonized them and missionaries insisted they covered up. Their natural resting position was a deep squatting position which reduced their surface area. They would resemble Beckett’s Balacqua from out of Dante’s purgatory.
The sailing of Shackleton’s ‘James Caird’ from Elephant Island to South Georgia to get relief for the marooned party is a dark picture. There are faint ghosts on the bow of the ‘Endurance’ with dogs, then Shackelton’s party are at dinner, the ‘Endurance’ still intact but gripped fast in the ice of Weddell Sea. We see members of the ‘Endurance’ party living down below after their ship had become frozen stuck. A deck scene. Igloos built for dogs alongside. Shackleton’s boats hauled up on to the floes at night during the escape . Tom Crean with puppies . Hurley in the early days of Antarctic exploration, with his ponderous apparatus. Shackleton & Hurley outside a hut. Sledge dogs on the ice and in igloos after the ship had been frozen in. The departure of ‘James Caird’ from Elephant Island. Shots of Caird Coast. A supernal Weddell Sea. Ice flowers. A typical South Georgia glacier. David Mawson and two unidentified men at the South Magnetic Pole. A strange dream of more dark pictures: Shackleton with his beard off, after returning to base camp from his great southern Polar journey, an attempt to haul ‘Endurance’ lifeboats over the ice to Graham Land, a stone faced horror of the ‘Endurance’ frozen still in rough-surfaced pack ice with the doomed ship in a weird background that seems to creep closer to the bow, then a spooky one of an encampment on sea ice, perched very high, taking sights and Shackleton’s Weddell Sea party on Elephant Island with their first hot drink.
One of the four vessels that tried to reach the marooned party on Elephant Island under Frank Wild is a yacht. Now there are ghost pictures of the yacht named after another daughter, ‘Emma’. It’s a distant sequence after the releasing of the marooned men by the Chilean tug Yelcho carrying Shackleton’s men from Elephant Island, entering Punta Arenas and then landed at Punta Arenas with Shackleton and Frank Wild in a van . There’s a crowd at Punta Arenas when the Elephant Island party came ashore. Wild and Shackleton stand in front, with flaky sterness. The Elephant Island party pose outside some building in Punta Arenas. On a table there’s a sketch map by Worsley of the landing place at South Georgia after the great boat journey from Elephant Island, and it’s here, in this picture, in the shadows, that another figure, spectral and distant though in the same room, and without a recognizable face, is shimmering in revenant light. There are images like skin blots of Cape pigeons at South Georgia and inland South Georgia scenery, followed by superimposed snaps of a South Georgia fjiord, of Valparaiso, of Tom Crean and Major Shackleton before taking part in the North Russian campaign in 1919 and then a strange distant one of F.A. Worsley, probably taken when he was commanding a P Boat or Q Boat during First World War, which is both a kind of summary and also mysteriously frightening.
[Sir George C. Simpson. Photo: K.E. Woodley, courtesy the Met Office.]
At the Royal Geographical Society, not far from the The Science Museum, South Kensington, where White did his residency, voices come through the listening post. This is a few years ago now. ‘Ice-pressure approaching the ship: The Endurance at midwinter’ says a blistered voice which sounds far away. ‘I can see a view of Elephant Island, taken from the “spit” at the waterline a line of ice mounds were thrown up, linked with light rope to serve as a guidance during blizzards…’ it continues. Over a period of weeks the same voice comes through, and each time signing off with ‘I’m Worsley’ before fading out.
White writes about the pink glow of the rising sun shining on a pressure ridge in the Weddell Sea, winter 1915, but not in this book. He scribbles by hand in his notebook that the rigging of the “Endurance” is encrusted with RIME crystals. It’s all a mid-winter glow this Weddell Sea, looking just like lead recently formed and just freezing over. The foreground is covered with small carnation shaped crystals, called ice flowers. There’s a glimpse of the ‘Endurance’ through Hummocks and a headland covered with dying tussock grass, some summer vegetation and the chick of the Wanderer Albatross, photographed at South Georgia. February 1917.
None of this is monochrome now, but a strange pinky colour. ‘The Paget Colour Plate system used by Hurley was not like today’s colour film. It used a ruled set of colour lines, called a screen, sandwiched with a standard black and white glass half plate negative. The subject was exposed through the colour screen, which acted like a series of colour filters, onto the black and white negative. The negative was reverse processed into a positive transparency and placed back in contact with the screen, giving the effect of a colour photograph.’
There’s a strange magenta/green colour shift that does not resemble the originals. In the Swendenborg House the man who called himself Tony White adjusted some of the plates he showed so that the black and white emusion obliterated the tiny specks of colour in the original colour filters. The Autochrome system used minute potato starch grains to introduce colour, one third dyed red-orange, green and violet on a glass plate. Red light would pass through a red starch grain and give a black dot on the negative but it seemed White wanted to erase this and any reference to the several colour screen processes, using machine ruled lines on the emulsion, introduced before WWI. It was as if he had taken instructions from Rauschenberg, or perhaps he was being more mystic and Malevich was tuning him. Anyhow, according to the notes of the curator of photographs at the Mitchel Library in 2001, ‘…colour screen processes fell out of favour in the 1920s, when the price of screens became prohibitive. Naturally, enlargement of any colour screen process soon reveals the pattern of lines or, in the case of an Autochrome, the potato starch grains.’
The novel starts with the abandoning of the ship. It is winter of Elephant island. There’s a desperate journey to South Georgia on the ‘James Caird.’ Shackleton died on January 5th 1922, a hero of that escape. He is buried in the cemetery at Grytviken. White alerts us to the equally disastrously trapped ‘Aurora’. Of this other, there were fatalities. Browning’s ‘Prospice’ was placed on their memorial. White holds these two dramas together, as if one shadows the meaning of the other. They entwine so that it makes no sense to ask what the experience was of, nor how many. Inside his stories there are the other stories.
Shackleton began the ‘South Polar Times.’ It was a kind of early zine, not printed but typed and then passed from crew member to crew member. White finds a secret manuscript in the British Library whilst looking at these. ‘Fragments of a Manuscript Found by the people of Sirius When They Visited The Earth During the Exploration of the Solar System.’ It’s a science fiction story involving global warming. Written a couple of years after Hope Hodgson’s classic ‘House on the Borderline.’ It tells the story of a decline of humanity where there is no longer love of sciences and arts, just a fixation with better medicine to bring down the death rate. An Elixir of Life uses production processes that destroy Antarctica. White is astonished at the prescience of the threat of global warming and climate change buried in the piece. He follows it up. That’s his novel.
Its fantasy demands fantastic metaphors: it’s a grotto of mysteries, a cavern beneath the coasted ice cliffs, a wave worn stretch of icy coast, a shattered surface, a wide seascape of ice-roofed islets, a plateau going south (Bage’s party 3000 feet above sea-level)a lining over the Sastrugi, a granite buttress, an Aurora in a blizzard, a panorama of bergs in the Davis Sea, a conclave of emperors, monsters on the deep and a monument to Lt. Ninnis and Dr. Mertz. It is its own mystery. A great read.
Winding through his narrative White introduces us to key historical figures that all connect. The heroic age of Antarctic exploration involved Michael Barne (1877-1966) who wrote ‘Ode to a Penguin’. Penguins taste of shoe leather steeped in turpentine. George Simpson (1878-1965) wrote the discovered sci fi story Sirius. White embarks on a quest of sorts to discover whether in the story he was alluding to research he was doing about climate change. McMurdo Sound is the hub and centre of the world. Peter Fend makes a map with Antarctica in the middle. ‘to show how ocean currents function.’ The Arctic is subordinate to the Antarctic because currents are controlled in the South. White frantically searches for answers.
White writes shadowy scripts and scribbles information. He talks to whoever he can sceance into his strange quest. Robert Spicer of the Open University suggests a tropical age will succeed the ice age. Antartica used to be like New Zealand with deciduous forests not tropics and just a few peaks with ice. The familiar ice caps of Antarctica formed fifty million years ago. Fossil leaves tell you what the climate is like. We may well not understand the physics of a warm world. There are genuine data mismatches . Poles amplify the changes elsewhere. Spicer thinks significant melting of the ice will take place in the next few hundred years.
George Simpson writes ‘Does Climate Change’ in 1940. He was the first lecturer in meteorology, delivering his first in Manchester, 1950. He built one of Antarctics first weather stations. He joined the Met Office in Adastral House on the corner of Kingsway and Aldwych. The Ministry Airship Division abandoned Airship-based civil aviation after the 1931 R 101 disaster. The Albertopolis Disparu section runs elements of this out to create the non-orientability effect of a Mobius band or a Klein Bottle. This is as good a metaphor of what White is doing as I can think of. White is creating an algebraic topology where notions of in and out, top side and bottom, make no sense. He stalks down more info at the Met Office down in Exeter. Svante Arrhenius wrote ‘On The Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air upon the Temperature of the Ground’ in 1896. He used hand calculations. He predicted temperature rise of between 5 and 6 degrees that still hold. Arrhenius won a Nobel prize for other work about chemical reactions. White notes that the same model and the same physics are used for weather forecasting and modeling climate change. Models are used to project for a few hundred years in future but can go no further. Models require scenarios of future responses and these stories are always too brittle to last long enough.
White maintains a steady hand to distinguish vision from empirical data. Extreme events help establish this, so he discusses the relevance of the static 2003 heat wave in Europe which caused 35,000 deaths, and the 2008 storm over Burma’s Irrawady Delta that killed 78000 that occurred weeks after his visting the Met Office. So White is steady-handed and sure-footed and never gets his tone wrong. His artiface is well-wrought though orric.
[Sir George C Simpson © Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.]
Culture and science mix. The early climate warming science was mixed with the stubborn themes of racism and eugenics. White introduces us to Ellsworth Huntingdon who linked climate change to intelligence, weather, evolutionary advantage and the origins of racial difference in his The Pulse of Progress. White points out that eugenicist thinking has infected British science ever since 1883 and Galton’s coinage. Ideas of vigor and good stock and restless activity linked this to Simpson’s story ‘where death was banished.’ We get Thomas Griffith Taylor, a high profile racist geographer, a ‘Terra Nova’ survivor who died in 1963 and who wrote the short sci-fi story ‘Valhalla 2000AD’.
That there is something wrong is scripted away from this ugly racism and detoured into prevenient tourism and invasion. So White tells us that Antarctic Temperature has risen 3 degrees over last 50 years, with a seasonal mean rise of 8 degrees in winter months. We are told that people visits have risen from 4000 visits a year a decade ago to 49000. In 2007 the ‘MS Explorer’ hit an iceberg. All were saved. The threat is the threat of invasive species being introduced via spores or seeds. White goes to listen to Emma Tomkins on adaptation and migration and climate change and moving ski resorts up the mountain.
White isn’t writing anything as linear as what all this suggests. He’s troubled by storytelling. We need stories to make longer lasting projections. Stories are linked to adaptability. There’s a link between a nations adaptability and coincidence of extreme events. So he mind-bombs. His is a process of elution – extracting one material from another. Psychic ruins reveal new stories. They jut out of White’s versions of ‘The World Turned Upside Down’. Climate is changing but don’t mistake that for extinction. White warns us of making a ‘Romeo Error’ about storytelling.
‘Romeo Error’ means to give up hope for a species on the mistaken assumption that it is extinct. The Cebu Flowerpecker is a bird rediscovered in 1992 after being lost for 86 years. Romeo Errors tend to take place in environments where lost things stay lost. So some birds remain lost and are assumed to be extinct: the Hooded Seedeater was last seen in 1823, the Turquoise –throated Puffleg in 1850, the Jamaican Pauraque in 1860, the Jamaica petrol in 1879, the Guadaupe Storm-petrol in 1912, the Imperial Woodpecker in 1956, the Eskimo Curlew in 1963, the Ua Pou Monarch in 1985, Bachman’s Warbler in 1988, the Ou in 1989, the Oahu Alauahio in 1990, the Nokupuu in 1996, the Spix’s Macaw in 2000 and the Poo-uli in 2004.
‘Romeo Errors’ are rational when threats are genuine. The Reunion Harrier faces more threats to extinction than any other bird. Poaching, secondary poisoning from dentricides, cultivation and increasing urbanization have eliminated its forests, and road construction disturbs its breeding habitat. Cyclones, heavy rain and fires further degrade the habitat. Invasion of exotic plants increases the degradation. Agricultural pesticide use, silvicultural management, collisions with electrical cable and wind turbines plus human hunting add to pressures note the nerveless Sarah Caceres and Jean-Noel Jasmin. The Oriental Stork is the second most threatened bird. Deforestation and drainage of wetlands for agricultural development, plus spring fires that threaten breeding sites and nests are primary threats. Over-fishing causes problems in breeding sites and wintering sites. It is hunted, persecuted as a pest or captured for zoos. Pollution and changes in water levels caused by large scale dams plus collisions with power lines also cause problems. The threats faced by globally threatened birds are, in rank order, (highest threat first) agriculture/aquaculture, logging and wood/plant harvesting, invasive species, hunting/trapping, residential/commercial development, climate change/severe weather, energy production/mining, transport/utility lines, human disturbance, pollution dams and water abstraction, fishing, other eco system modification and geological events. When we stop seeing Reunion Harriers and Oriental Storks it will be rational to assume them extinct, but they may not be.
There’s the ‘fourth-man’ revenant story that still lurks in all this. He begins to emerge out of the contours of Frank Hurley’s afterlife. First we download a strafe of images: the Hangars of the 1st Australian Squadron A.F.C. Palestine 1917, a relay station on the top of Anzac Ridge. Ypres, September 1917, on the Cassel Ypres Road at Steenvorde, Belgium in September 1917; in the 2nd Division Pioneers clearing the road near the Cloth Wall, October 1917; then a fuzz of images and no definite dates: in one he’s walking near Tank Corner, Ypres; and earlier he’s crossing a flooded Waddy near Ludd, Palestine, one Christmas, in another he’s standing at a dump of shells left by the retreating Turks when they were driven back from Gaza, in yet another he’s cadent in one of the Modern Rockefeller villages in Palestine. In one he stands at an angle with the road at Dieran, then he’s blank eyed at Ludd looking across to the Judaen Hills, and then, later still, he’s in Jerusalem looking out from the Mount of Olives, then at the Crusaders Tower at Ramleh Palestine, and the one taken at the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives is touching like brail. In January (the date is scrawled on the back of the picture) he’s with the Army Medical Corps attached to the Imperial Camel Corps in the desert at RAFA Palestine, in a bivouac amongst the Judden Hills near Nalin. There’s an overturned Caterpillar tractor on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho and he’s looking back towards Jerusalem, in action prior to the capture of the hill where the sun is like brisance .
In one picture he’s a thin sketch disappearing into a raft of images at Palestine, amongst the ruins of Gaza, in a sunburnt landscape at Nalin, on the Old Jericho Road just before its descent into the Jordan Valley, in the Camel lines of the Egyptian Camel Corps at Dieran Palestine and at Esdud and in Jaffa and camped amongst the Sand Hills at Belah Palestine and in Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives with its purple mists of evening. It’s a sequence without particular order, and seems almost outside time. Once he’s standing in the ruins of the Grand Mosque in Gaza after the bombardment. The enemy used it as an ammunition store house. Another time he’s in the Rocks of Andromeda, Jaffa, with transports laden with War Materials out at sea. He stares at the Latron Gorge on the way to Jerusalem. The view looks back towards Jaffa. In this picture his eyes are nettled and intensely alive.
He smokes outside The Mosque of Omar, Jerusalem. On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho along which the Turks were driven after the capture of Jerusalem, the old Jericho Road, he watches soldiers transporting guns & war materials along, with the Jordon Valley in the appressed 2-D background. In the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane he’s looking from the Mount of Olives across to the Sea by the Mount of the Ascension and imagines picking a purple Iris and some wild anemones that make the hillsides of Judea blood red in the spring time.
There is a smoky canticle sounding out whilst he stands by a shell-ploughed battlefield from Stirling Castle looking towards Passchendale. And then he’s staring at Bayonets with Australian infantrymen preparing to resist a counter attack at Zonnebeke, with transport passing through the ruined village of Vlamertinghe, on a windy outpost on Westhoek Ridge, near a dump of material accumulated in an advanced position the day before a battle. Bundles of corkscrews used for wiring-off captured ground had been bored noiselessly into the ground during the night to form posts on which the barbed entanglements are strained. These are strangely prominant in the picture.
He watches a stretcher case and a man attending to a badly wounded man in an advanced dressing station. He conducts a battle in a shell-proof dugout, twenty-five feet below ground where communication is maintained by telephone and foot runners. On the enemy side one of their runners was an unknown Adolf Hitler. They’re sniping enemy planes with a Lewis gun where a tree has been severed by a shell. He listens to Shrapnel bursting amongst reconnoitering planes. He stops to look at he ruins of the Cloth Hall through a cloister window, looks through a ruined cathedral window on to the graves of the fallen, over a camouflaged road like a wonky ecce homo.
He works near a Howitzer of the 55th Australian Siege Artillery in its lair, crouches in funk holes in the trenches in Zonnebeke, Voormezeele, Ypres, Broodseinde and sits in the interior of the Albert Cathedral. There’s a mystical edge to his dark vision here, looping with the famous leaning Madonna and Child. Early in the War a German shell hit and almost severed the supports of the statue. In falling, the base became entangled in some ironwork and for a long while remained poised head downward with the child held out suppliantly to those who passed beneath. ‘The peasantry firmly believed that when the statue fell, peace would come. Strangely enough the Armistice was signed only a short while after the statue fell to the ground.’
He lets in evening by the Cloth Hall, Ypres. Standing amongst the ruins of the Church at Voormezeele and the mirroring ruins of the Cloth Hall a street in Ypres, the Lille Gate might be the set of Godot. He walks by entire cities and villages along the Western Front that lay in heaps of catastrophe. He sees the German dead strewing the conquered battlefield. A machine brought down in flames is burning fiercely. There are bombing planes. He stands at dawn at Passchendale, at the Relay Station near Zonnebeke Station overlooked by battle-scarred sentinels, the remnant of a fine old avenue on the infamous track through Chateau Wood. Along the distempered sky-line a train of mules is carrying ammunition forward to the light guns. All around may be seen the wastage of battle which typifies Westhoek. There are camouflaged German Pill-boxes in the Wood of Nonne Bosschen. An observation balloon floats like a drowned figure over the ruins of Ypres. A remnant of the old Boche front line entanglements becomes surrounded by invisible, whistling death. The Menin road by a winter’s sunset becomes eccentric and in need of inscriptions. He can supply none. A Battle-torn wood, the Chateau Wood near Ypres seems to be dissolving into the mud. In a picture attention is directed to the remarkable wraith-like form of the shell burst, and to the outline of a white skull surmounting it, like a spooky striptease girl in ghastly eccrine.
Images. All of them developed at Raines & Co., a shop off St Mary’s Road in Ealing not far from the Ealing Film Studios and the old rape church. In the foreword to his catalogue Hurley states: “I make no claim to pictorial merit; the pictures are records, and except for several of the larger ones are faithful reproductions of the scenes they portray. In order to convey accurate battle impressions, I have made several composite pictures, utilising a number of negatives for the purpose.” Specializing in bromide and carbon printing processes as well as platinotype printmaking, the company built up an extremely loyal clientele of professional photographers, illustrators, and artists. The company was best known for its finishing and enlargements, but also produced unparalleled black and white prints, good quality semi-tint works. Mr. Raines’ life was cut tragically short after eating tainted oysters during a family holiday outing. He contracted typhoid fever and died at home on September 22, 1903. But that’s not it, that’s not the other story. The other story is next to Hurley.
Standing with Hurley on the ‘Endurance’ was Worsley. And in his eyes the fourth man. And with him the submerged strands of White’s narratives, those tangled nets that some stories clear but others snag and can’t. A ghost haunts a ghost. Worsley later commanded the mysterious Q Ship PQ-61. This was the “Mystery Ship” PQ-61 which, on 26 September 1917, sank the German submarine UC-33 by ramming her. There is a Q Boat moored in the Thames, ‘the HMS President’ moored at King’s Reach. PQ-61’s captain was Frank Worsley and her first officer was J.R. Stenhouse who was also part of Shackleton’s “Endurance” expedition of 1914-17. For this action, Stenhouse was awarded the DSC and he would later go on to win the DSO for his work fighting the Bolshevik revolutionaries in North Russia in 1919. In later life, he commanded Captain Scott’s “Discovery” during the National Oceanographic Expedition; sought pirate gold on R.L. Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”; and pioneered Antarctic tourism. Worsley died of lung cancer in Bamford House Claygate, Surrey in 1943, where Ronnie Wood lives and where Tony Richardson’s ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’ staring Tom Courtenay was filmed in the early 1960s.
Out of Worsley’s eyes crawls Alfred Arnold. He was in Great Britain and North and South America on diplomatic missions as a marine officer on some occasions. He was also in Morocco, in the Mediterranean in the Balkan War, in West Africa, in South Africa and during the revolution in Haiti as a Diplomat in 1914 when German, British and French troops put down anti-racist civil unrest. He was Captain Lieutenant of the German Navy, later to be the General Manager of the Ajkai Coal Mines Stock Company. Born in 1891 in Giesenstein Castle, Saxony, Germany and then living in Budapest, Hungary, educated at Heidelberg University and a member of the Polo Club and the All Peoples Association, he was awarded the Hungarian Cross of Mercy, the Cross of Albrecht of Saxonia Order and the Hanseaten Cross. He died in 1963 in Bad Schachen.
On 26th September he commanded the UC-33 U Boat that attacked the British steamer SS San Zeferino in St George’s Channel. The ship did not sink. Visibility on the surface was poor due to fog. A PQ-boat PQ-61 rammed his U Boat which had earlier snagged and lost a propeller and so could not escape. The U Boat was holed and sank. Only Arnold survived. Arnold writes: ‘ The enemy was coming closer and we had to get under. The chief engineer reported that he would have the motor clutched any moment, but we waited, measuring the time in seconds. Finally he said that the coupling was frozen solid. … I could see the patrol boat through the conning tower port, and it was very near. Then he rammed us.’ Beforehand there were premonitions of lizard coldness and darkness amongst the crew.
White avoids the vulgarity and conviction of argument, annoys enemies with tinctures of understanding and is old enough by now to not know everything. An obligate limelight spoils certain writers. White works away from anything like that in a positive underground. This novel sets out the grounds for avoiding ‘Romeo Error’, the mistaken belief in our extinction. Each story is a phony, but genuine and truthful. They are like insect eggs that will hatch in the imagination’s eye flesh. It’s notoriously problematic to have a campaign without losing imaginative liveliness. White has produced something about climate change and its political, existential freight with the same mysterious qualities of ‘The House on the Borderline’. White’s concern is whether science can tell the right stories. The Alfred Arnold story was unforeseen. Climate change makes the unforseen story intrinsic. .
The book’s weird earnest zest reminds me of the ‘Quatermass’ movies and the novels of Michael Moorcock. It has an expansive note, like a quarreling genius. I like the ramifying notes and its continuing recrudescence. But it carries a soft whispering sound of torture, drones, heat death, poverty and rape in its muted cleave.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Richard Marshall is still biding his time.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013.