Cooper Gosling receives an Artist & Writers great from the NSF to join an eclectic group of intense scientists (“Beakers”) and maintenance staff (“Nailheads”) at the South Pole for a year in order to find inspiration and come to terms with the recent suicide of her twin brother. But that is only the tip of the iceberg (ha ha) of the plot for this deeply engaging and satisfying novel.
There are several different plot lines – in addition to Cooper and her artistic struggles, there is a detailed story line devoted to the competing theories about the origins of the Universe, along with the scientists espousing them and the experiments designed to prove them. This is well described and aligns with reality (according to Stanford News from March 17, 2014). Also a lot of great description of the station(s), the people who fund them, maintain them, and work in them. Throw in some interesting political and ethical issues in the form of a climate skeptic who has been given research funds to disprove climate change due to human activity and the way he is treated by other researchers at the Pole and you have an engrossing set of stories. Compelling from start to finish.
SPOILER ALERT – I have one small issue with the book. Frank Pavano, the climate skeptic, is at first presented as a reasonable man with some reasonable arguments for the research he is pursuing looking for alternate causes (heliocentric) for global warming. There is some great discussion about how he is treated by the other researchers and how objectivity in science should be maintained. However, towards the end the author made it clear that he was on the take from a group of politicians and oil companies and threw a whole conspiracy theory slant into what had been interesting scientific debate. She also painted an unrealistic (to me) portrait of how Dr. Pavano became this dishonest scientist. It made me realize how much I rely on the author’s imagination and experience to paint portraits of people in different environments. In this particular case I think she did a really poor job – not up to the level of her other characters and story arcs.
That aside, South Pole Station was a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.