- Thaw, by Dennis Glover. Black Inc, $34.99
There was a time when the destruction and mayhem conjured in disaster stories like Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow and The Towering Inferno - seemed reassuringly remote in terms of time, place or odds.
But reality, fuelled by human folly and misadventure, seems to increasingly emulate the imagination of writers.
COVID-19, for example, emerged just years after the threat posed by exotic pathogens was given the Hollywood treatment in Contagion.
Still, the threat to Antarctica captured by Dennis Glover in his latest novel Thaw gained a particular sense of immediacy when its release coincided with disturbing reports that up to 10,000 emperor penguin chicks drowned when sea ice off the southern-most continent broke up late last year.
According to scientists, the young birds likely drowned or froze to death when the ice which their parents had nested on melted and broke apart, plunging them into the frigid water before they had time to develop waterproof plumage.
Without giving too much of the plot away, Glover interweaves an account of Scott's doomed trek to the South Pole and back in 2012-23 with the pioneering work being undertaken by contemporary meteorologists, glaciologists and other scientists to understand Antarctica and, through this knowledge, the course of climate change.
As always, Glover writes with purpose - in this case, to transport readers to the bottom of the world to gain insight into how dramatically changing weather could affect the frozen continent and, by extension, us.
But, unlike the characters that populate many disaster stories - the impossibly athletic and noble hero who single-handedly brings humanity back from the brink, for instance - Glover takes the time to give those in Thaw a depth that helps carry the story along.
This is no more the case than the members of the Scott expedition, particularly the five who made the ill-fated drive to the pole and back.
Glover draws on what is known from the historical record, and the experiences of modern-day adventurer Ranulph Fiennes, to recreate the people and the suffering they endured in an endeavour which was as much about the science as the chase for polar glory.
In such a frigid environment, just taking the temperature was a gruelling daily undertaking that had its perils.
The fate of the explorers is linked to the work of the expedition's meteorologist George Clarke Simpson and, through him, to the modern day researchers trying to measure and understand what is happening to Antarctica as the planet warms.
Over all looms the weather, which is a malevolent character in its own right.
The story interleaves the painful progress of the British Antarctic Expedition led by Scott with the demands - and pleasures - of modern day scholarship in the rarefied air of Cambridge.
It builds with the pace of a thriller and its denouement would not look out of place in a Jerry Bruckheimer film, minus the explosions and heavy weaponry.
The book is something of a departure for Glover, a professional speechwriter, who made his initial foray into publishing as a scholar of George Orwell.
His first novel, The Last Man in Europe, explored the creation of 1984 by a tuberculosis-wracked Orwell when he ensconced himself in a shabby farmhouse on a remote Scottish island.
His second novel, Factory 19, is set in contemporary Hobart, where an eccentric billionaire recreates a pre-internet world of jobs that have disappeared with the advent of Amazon, Uber and WeChat.
The eclectic collection has in common a skeptic's view of the promise and lure of modern society and technology and what is lost with 'progress' as well as what is gained.
The release of Thaw is well-timed.
The northern hemisphere has just endured its hottest summer on record, one blighted by a succession of major natural disasters including wildfires, floods, hurricanes and killer heatwaves.
After warning two months ago the world had entered an era of "climate boiling", UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded an even more ominous alarm this week, declaring that "climate breakdown has begun".
According to the World Meteorological Organisation, August was around 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial age and the average global sea surface temperature has reached almost 21 degrees.
Glover's novel draws on mounting evidence and plausible scientific scenarios regarding the effects of the changing climate on the polar regions.
No-one knows precisely what this will mean for the world we inhabit, but it is unlikely to be good.
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