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South Pole Station: A Novel Hardcover – July 3, 2017
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One of The Millions' Most Anticipated Books of the Year
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
"The first fictional book [I've read] in a decade that I didn’t want to put down...Salman Rushdie recently said that in the present day the country is so filled with lies and fantasy and fiction surrounding the truth, that it might require the fiction writer to plainly lay out what is reality and what is not. I think [South Pole Station] fits that notion."―Dr. John Abraham, The Guardian
"Entertaining...The [ensemble cast’s] day-to-day dramas provide a vivid notion of what it's like to live in a frigid landscape that's dark for six months of the year.”―Alida Becker, The New York Times Book Review
"Shelby makes serious statements about scientific quests, climate change, politics and people in extremis, but it's the 'Polies' who undergird the story...With South Pole Station's satire, science, wry wit and warmth, Ashley Shelby has written one of the best novels of the year."―Shelf Awareness
"If you like literature that transports you to exotic locales beyond the reach of commercial airlines and enables you to view hot topics from cool new angles, South Pole Station is just the ticket....Shelby's writing is pithy and funny...[and] in this unusual, entertaining first novel, [she] combines science with literature to make a clever case for scientists' and artists' shared conviction that 'the world could become known if only you looked hard enough.'"―Heller McAlpin, NPR
"[An] enjoyable first novel...Shelby is very good on social interactions at the end of the earth, and South Pole Station crackles with energy whenever science takes center stage"."―Dennis Drabelle, The Washington Post
"Few places evoke feelings of isolation and existential crisis like the South Pole. In this terrific debut, Ashley Shelby achieves not only that but also a grand sense of comedy...[South Pole Station] is a lovely, satirical, and emotionally complex novel about coming to terms with heartbreak and re-finding one’s self through art."―LitHub (16 Books to Read This Month)
"Most associate [climate fiction] with 'sci-fi' and therefore sci-fi's most recognizable tropes...But what if we expand the genre's definition to works that address issues of climate change in the here-and-now, in worlds that aren’t speculative or futuristic at all, but rather, unnervingly familiar? What we would find are some of the most urgent, funny, and beautifully written works in contemporary fiction. Case in point: Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station."―Chicago Review of Books
"Funny, quirky, and witty."―Brava Magazine (Must-Read Authors)
"An eclectic dramatis personae mans South Pole, and Shelby mines this singular society...[It's] the perfect setting for black comedy."―Paste magazine
"Set in the vast yet claustrophobic reality of Antarctica, the novel's first delight is in its vivid depiction of sub-zero life...The second delight is the clear message that science is not belief. It's science....Shelby keeps more than a few story lines thrumming here, yet a keen eye for character and a sharp ear for smartass dialogue keeps the strands straight."―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A] smart and inventive first novel...Shelby balances Eros with Thanatos in a story composed of barbed dialogue, email, and official memos.”―Kirkus Reviews
“Throughout witty, often hilarious scenarios, Shelby expertly weaves in the legitimate political and environmental concerns of climate change faced by the worldwide scientific community today. Shelby's exploration of the human spirit continuously digs deeper, ever in search of answers to all of life's important questions―scientific and otherwise.”―BookPage
“[A] trip into mad science, politics gone berserk, class resentment, and what happens when rival groups spend half the year isolated in abelow-zero wilderness.”―The Buffalo News
“South Pole Station is a portrait painted with the whole palette―science and politics; art and history; love and frostbite―and all of it crackles with the can't-make-this-up details of life at the bottom of the world. What starts as an (extreme) travel adventure turns into an (extreme) comedy of manners and then things get (extremely) real and you (will definitely) cry. Sometimes it turns out a place was just waiting for the right person to tell its story; I think South Pole Station was waiting for Ashley Shelby.”―Robin Sloan, New York Times bestselling author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
“Turn the pages of Ashley Shelby's debut novel, South Pole Station, and meet the scientists, researchers, misfits, lovers, medics, plagiarists, cooks―and the handful of wannabe artists―who populate her marvelously vivid and insular society at the bottom of the globe. This is a terrific book: one that you can live in deeply, while you're reading, only to reemerge after the final chapter, grateful and blinking, wondering where in the heck you are.”―Julie Schumacher, national bestselling author of Dear Committee Members
"Journalist [Ashley] Shelby's first novel eschews easy choices and treats interpersonal relations, grief, science, art, and political controversy with the same deft, humorous hand. Readers will find characters to love, suspect, and identify with among Cooper's fellow Polies and won't forget them easily. A good match for readers whose interest in Antarctica was sparked by Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette, those who enjoy stories about quirky individuals and made families, and extreme armchair travelers."―Booklist
"Shelby's first novel, based on a short story that won the Third Coast Fiction Prize, skillfully weaves science, climate change, politics, sociology, and art...All readers of fiction, particularly those interested in life in extreme climates, will find [South Pole Station] appealing."―Library Journal (starred review)
“I was dazzled by Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station―a terrifically witty, insightful, and satisfying novel, peopled by memorable misfits thrown together in a hothouse of conflicting interests in the frozen Antarctic.”―Elizabeth McKenzie, author of The Portable Veblen
"This is a fascinating novel, loaded with interesting history of Antarctic exploration, current scientific operations, and the living and working conditions of those folks brave enough to endure six months of darkness and six months of daylight."―Publishers Weekly
“Ashley Shelby's debut South Pole Station is an absolute treasure. She's somehow written an infectious beach read about the coldest place on earth AND a stunning treatise on family, grief, creativity, and science. This book hits all the best notes of Where'd You Go, Bernadette and Catch 22 and has the warmth and wit to carve its way into even the iciest of hearts.”―John Jodzio, author of Knockout
“Prepare for the big chill! Ashley Shelby’s mismatched cast of characters are all powerfully drawn to the South Pole, each for their own reason; Shelby charts their respective courses with sensitivity, intelligence, and grace. Here is a brave, original novel about leaving the known and familiar world in order to find it again.”―Yona Zeldis McDonough, author of The House on Primrose Pond
“South Pole Station is the brilliant story of artist and lost soul Cooper Gosling. In Antarctica, she meets the misfits and margin-dwellers with whom she has to navigate the webs of belief and knowledge, grief and hope, loneliness and love. South Pole Station reminds us that sometimes we have to go to the end of the earth to find what is within us.”―Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness
About the Author
ASHLEY SHELBY is a former editor at Penguin and a prize-winning writer and journalist. She received her MFA from Columbia University and is the author of Red River Rising: The Anatomy of a Flood and the Survival of an American City, a narrative nonfiction account of the record-breaking flood that, in 1997, devastated Grand Forks, North Dakota. The short story that became the basis for South Pole Station is a winner of the Third Coast Fiction Prize. She lives in the Twin Cities with her family.
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Cooper Gosling has always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Antarctica. Her dad is the type of man whose only reading material consists of books written by and about polar explorers. Cooper’s brother, David, shared their father’s fascination with polar exploration --- right up until his diagnosis with schizophrenia and eventual suicide. Still grieving David’s death, Cooper, who is a visual artist, decides to apply for the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists & Writers Program.
Despite a number of red flags in her psychological evaluation (including her admission that she recently lost a close relative to suicide), Cooper is selected to participate in the program, and soon has undergone training to spend an entire summer season at the South Pole Station. Cooper quickly discovers that even this remote quasi-civilization has its own tribes; there are the Beakers (scientists) and the Nailheads (maintenance staff), who share a mutual disdain for one another’s work. As for the artists and writers, the rest of the Polies couldn’t care less if a great biography or historical novel or interpretive dance grows out of their time at Pole.
As Cooper navigates this complicated social system (which is explicated by Pole’s resident sociologist and Cooper’s office mate), she finds herself struggling to find both her place within it and her own means of articulating her polar experience through art --- since that’s (ostensibly) why she’s there in the first place.
SOUTH POLE STATION takes place during the George W. Bush administration, and one of the central conflicts arises when a climate change denier arrives at South Pole Station to perform research in support of his views. The other scientists --- many of whom are climate researchers --- detest him, but Cooper finds herself intrigued by his outsider status, even though their friendship might jeopardize her social standing at the station and, ultimately, even her livelihood.
Chapters focusing on Cooper’s time at the South Pole are interspersed with those outlining other characters’ backstories and the reasons --- both personal and professional --- that they found themselves in this most surprising location. Shelby, whose previous book was a nonfiction study of a 1997 flood that devastated Grand Forks, North Dakota, writes about technical topics and geographical setting with confidence and compelling detail. As Cooper strives to find her own way while straining to understand David’s death, she enters into numerous debates about climate change, the nature of scientific integrity, the function of belief (in God or in science), and the different ways in which scientists and artists pursue truth.
All of this might sound heavy, but don’t worry --- SOUTH POLE STATION also includes the absurdity and humor befitting its eccentric and appealingly unorthodox cast of characters.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl.
I love the summer, hot weather, and warm nights but for whatever reason I love stories of all kinds that take place in frigid climates - the Arctic, Antarctica, Alaska, the Yukon, Minnesota, and on and on. This story was quite different than I expected. There was a lot about the Station and the South Pole but there was also a LOT that read like a physics textbook with a lot of politics added.
Cooper Gosling, painter/artist, is accepted by the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Artists & Writers Program, and soon finds herself a FINGY (effing new guy) at Amundsen- Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica in 2004. She and her brother were long obsessed with South Pole, following in the footsteps of their father's obsession. After her brother's suicide, she is trying to make sense of what happened to him and hopes to find some answers at South Pole.
There is quite a motley crew at the Station, from construction workers, maintenance, cooks, a doctor, scientists, other recipients of the NSF grant - and all combine personalities into a sometimes funny, sometimes melancholy tale of misfits and reprobates.
I liked the story but didn't love it and probably wouldn't read it again. But if you're a real nut about Antarctica, give it a try. There are quite a few tidbits of info about the Station and enough dark humor to make it worth a read.
I received this book from Picador USA through Net Galley in exchange for my unbiased review.
The habits and personalities of the eccentric Polies make South Pole Station inescapably funny, but the book resonates more deeply than a reader may initially expect. The grand unknowns it addresses--how did the universe begin?--are, for Cooper and the others, movingly personal.
(Review originally written for the City Book Review. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)