Icefire, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

Pocket, 1998, 703 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-671-01403-X

If Icefire is to be believed, the government should be monitoring private home pages to detect, identify and act upon threats to the state based on intricate psychological profiles. In this case, I fully expect unmarked black vans in front of my home any moment now: In the past year, these book reviews have demonstrated an unhealthy interest in global catastrophes of various flavors: Insect extinction (Dust, Charles Pellegrino), Alien Invasion (The Killing Star, Pellegrino and George Zebrowski), EMP event (Aftermath, Charles Sheffield), Exploding Moon (Moonfall, Jack McDevitt), Crazy Terrorists (Storming Heaven, Dale Brown), Cometary Impact (Final Impact, Yvonne Navarro), Bio-Warfare (The Cobra Event, Richard Preston)… Now here comes Icefire, a global catastrophe thriller that begins in one of the world’s most unexpected places… Antarctica.

The Reeves-Stevens premise is simple: A large part of Antarctica (The Ross Shelf) is actually hanging over open sea. Should this area be abruptly hurled into the sea, it would create a massive wave that would travel across the entire Pacific Ocean in a matter of hours, devastating everything in its path.

Guess what? This is exactly what happens in the opening pages of the novel, as nuclear warheads are detonated by terrorists. Before long, our Navy SEAL protagonist Mitch Weber is forced to team up with environmentalist Cory Rey to warn the world of the impending danger. Complicating the matter further is that the two were once lovers, but now stare at each other from totally opposite ideological viewpoints.

To be charitable, Icefire is not a novel of characters. A techno-thriller in the best tradition, it is a breathtaking narrative of rapidly introduced ideas and good-old American can-do military intervention. Everyone who despaired at the current techno-thriller slump should rejoice at the arrival of the Reeves-Stevens on the scene.

One crucial element that has been well-understood by the writers is the techno-thriller genre’s reliance on secrets. Whether anyone believes that the US military knows about UFOs and such, most of us suspect that they’ve been hiding some pretty fascinating technology. Icefire has far too much fun in imagining what these secrets might be. Though overdone in some areas (come on, they’re still rehashing Roswell?), this is one of the nice surprises of the book. Are these high-tech secrets convincing? Well, I did look on the Internet for some references to the mysterious objects described on pages 243-244. Even at 10$ for the paperback, there is a lot of material for your money in Icefire‘s 703 pages.

The other surprise is how darn exciting it all is. Icefire begins with nuclear explosions and builds on to bigger things. The means used by our protagonists to travel beyond the wave are increasingly high-tech, and the action doesn’t let stop. Several “Cool Scenes” [TM] pepper the narrative, pushing Icefire well above the average techno-thriller novel.

Best of all, the writing flows very well. The characters are well defined in their functions, even if not much deeper. (I never really believed in the protagonists’ past romance, for instance, seeing how radically different their personality types are.) The plot mechanics are ingenious, wisely dropping cards when needed and withholding some bigger stakes for later. The conclusion is kind of flat, but after all that happened, who can blame readers for being a bit numb?

One could go on endlessly about Icefire, but it all boils down to how much fun it all is. What’s most surprising is that Reeves-Stevens are relative newcomers at techno-thrillers. They either studied their market cynically well, or they instinctively know what to do. In any case, I’m anxiously waiting for their next techno-thriller. Good stuff.

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