Posts Tagged ‘antartic’

Here’s the Author’s Note to Neptune’s Forge, which I will be polishing up in the coming days:

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AUTHOR’S NOTE

First of all, this tale is all but impossible. Except for one thing; it’s not. Not really. Despite “history” and despite what a thousand historians might have to say about it, to declaim the possibility that there were, 1) ancient civilizations of which we now know not what of, and 2) an entire continent now covered in ice was once free of it and teeming with both life and real flesh-and-blood people, is to ignore not only the factual evidence, but to ignore the basic nature of Man.

We are, fundamentally, explorers. Now, here in the second decade of the new millennia, we come to discover that the greatest explorers may not have been the Dutch, the Portuguese, the Chinese or even the Phoenicians, but the indigenous peoples of the South Pacific. The evidence is, in fact, mounting that it was they, and not Asiatics coming over the so-called Bering land-bridge who ultimately peopled North and South America. Certainly the South Pacific Islanders peopled South America, where today we find too many parallels between these ancient cultures to turn a completely blind eye. We find ancient ruins that far exceed the height of the most celebrated cultures of the Old World, not only in celestial navigation and in the creation of tremendous edifices of such gargantuan size with cyclopean stone, but also in the precision of their tools. It is almost as if they employed cutting lasers, were you to examine the ruins of Puma Punku.

And then there is Antarctica. Are we to assume that no one, nay, nary a single, solitary soul, has ever stepped foot on the seventh continent prior to Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition in 1907. This is the ultimate in egotism!

I am old enough now to have been taught in schools that it was Christopher Columbus who first discovered the New World. And, we come to find that this was a complete and utter lie. Now we know that before him it was the Norse, who made it at least as far as Newfoundland, if not, as some now believe, to what is modern day Minnesota. The Viking swords uncovered in Minnesota—along with the many skeletons of tall, red-haired “giants”—seem to have a way of disappearing into the deep vaults of The Smithsonian, never to be seen again. And now, just this year, we learn that South Pacific Islanders landed in California perhaps hundreds of years prior to the Norse. Which only makes sense. That a people who found a thousand or more atolls scattered across the Pacific would somehow miss the only thing blocking their way to the east…North America? For crying out loud!
And so it goes.
So we are left with one sobering thought as we are assailed with one doubt after another, and it is this: a man (and a woman, of course, for where would he be without her?) has to climb that next hill. He has to sail over that next horizon, whether or not he be eaten by whole armies of “Here there be beasties!” To ask why he and she must do this is like asking, “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why do people go to Houston when they can go anywhere else?” The short answer to the second question is that they go because they can. They go because no one is stopping them, and for sure and certain if they tried, why, there’d be hell to pay.

I firmly believe that we not only once thrived on the southernmost continent, but we had a vast civilization there. How do I know? Well, I can remember some things. Yes, this author is certain that he is not a one-life animal. He’s been around the Horn, sailed the Seven Seas, and has even explored the stars. And I remember a hell of a lot, even though I’m not supposed to do that. None of us are, in fact. It’s sort of against the rules. So, while I’m not trying to sell you anything—except perhaps this, or better yet, my next book—I’m simply saying what Shakespeare once said with far fewer and better words than I can muster: “There are far more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” That “philosophy,” of course, being accepted science and history. I’d paraphrase it thus, actually: Today’s history is tomorrow’s lies. Also, today’s science is tomorrow’s stone knives and bearskins. But I suppose I’m sort of borrowing from Spock—the Vulcan, not the baby doctor—and twisting it a little. Please forgive.

So, leaving all that lay for now, let’s talk about people, and let’s talk about their demons and their lusts. Eloquent topic, what?

People do all kinds of things to other people. They befriend them and they betray them, they gain their confidence and they cheat them, they run over them, they hang them, knife them, shoot them in the gut, necklace them, bury them alive, drown them, throw them to the fishes, sue them, embezzle them, snipe them from afar, buy votes from them, divorce them, saddle them with debt they can’t possibly repay, bill them, wreck them, frame them, jail them, tranquilize them, tase them, rape them, occasionally eat them…my goodness, the list gets long indeed.

But why do they do these things?

I have a notion about that. I think it’s because there must be something in it. Something that is deemed, rightly or wrongly at the time the thought comes, to aid the perpetrator somehow, in some twisted sort of way.

So, enter twenty-two men fighting a harsh, fierce and unforgiving environment, and each man with a past, a history unique to himself. What monsters might erupt during such a quest?

Thus, the volume you have just read.

That, “Here there be monsters!” on those ancient maps? I think it was always the monsters they brought with them they were talking about, that’s what I think it was, and they were too embarrassed to report the truth. The Karankawa Indians of the Texas coast and the Tonkawa of the interior were rumored to be cannibals. But we discover that it was the Spaniards who were eating their own dead that the Karankawa objected to, and were immediately labeled as being the same thing for which the shipwrecked Spaniards were guilty. Hmph. One wonders if God loves a cannibal? That’s food for thought, I suppose, if you’ll excuse the joke.

Fortunately, you found no cannibalism in these pages. No, instead you found far worse. You found man as he sometimes (and unfortunately) is. I’m sorry. It’s just the way it goes, even though I firmly believe it to be unnecessary in the common run of life. But the story, you see, is necessary. And that’s what I’m all about.

This What If tale has been a labor of love, and through it I managed to discover some things about myself. First, that I can write a great tale in 19th Century prose. Second, that I cannot escape the basic tale of man, from him at his the most base to him at his loftiest heights of heroism, duty and self-sacrifice. And then of course, there’s Third: I can’t not write these stories. These characters speak to me, you see. For me they are as if made of flesh and blood. They are real, they have a past. They hunger, they thirst, they lust and they dream. They live and they die, win and lose, and every now and again, one great among them emerges, head and shoulders above the rest to attain heights I never dreamed for them. And that, of course, is as it should be. A writer can’t ask for any more than that, either of his story or of its inhabitants.

It’s time to leave them now where they lie, where they lounge, where they walk.

This story was never meant to see a sequel, or for that matter, a prequel. I fear it is as I created it: a standalone work, cold and naked before a harsh world.

And there, let us together leave it.

Thank you for coming on this perilous quest along with me, Reader, my good and faithful constant companion. There are other worlds to visit. So, let’s be off!

George Wier
June 22, 2018

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Just a little bit on this Antarctic story:

CHAPTER TWO: THE SHELF

The Antarctic
September 16, 1888

The Invincible lay at anchor before the blue and white cliffs. The first rope, attached to Gomez’s harpoon, was fired up and over the ice shelf by the twelve-pounder prow cannon—which equipment was the last vestige of her fighting past, but which the navy could not easily remove from the prow emplacement before her auction—and the breathless spectacle of watching Manuel Ortega shinny up the rope with three other rope bundles and an additional forty pounds of steel spikes bound about his form made for the single-most riveting moment for the passengers and crew during their brief voyage from The Falklands, apart from the bloody taking of the narwhal the previous day. If the harpoon, embedded somewhere above in the implacable ice, were to give way, then Ortega’s fifty-foot climb would be his last, this everyone knew.

When he disappeared over the cliff’s edge, a cheer went up.

“Hurrah! Ortega!”

“Mr. Gleese,” Captain Kuralt stated, “you and your men may now disembark, and with my compliments.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Gleese said, and shook the Captain’s hand. No wind blew here beneath the cliffs of ice, and as the cheering about them ceased a silence stole like death across the deck as the men returned to their work.

The cargo hold was thrown open and the supplies were hoisted forth.

Mr. Kroones—Gleese’s Danish dogman—led the pack up from the stern stairs and onto the deck. The pack was composed of a mix of grey Huskies, white Lapps, and black Alsatians—and it was a marvel that Kroones somehow kept them all from tearing one another to pieces. At night the man sang them to sleep, his melodious and nearly falsetto voice reverberating off the interior of the hold as if he were in some grand Opera house. Kroones waved to Gleese and Gleese nodded. Kroones and the dogs would be first up onto the ice after Ortega.

“You’ve marked the coordinates well, then, Captain?” Gleese asked.

“Yes. Hmph. We’ll see you here on December fifteenth, sixty-nine degrees, fifty-fourth minutes, forty-nine seconds south by sixty degrees, twenty-nine minutes, fifty-five seconds west. And Godspeed, Mr. Gleese.”

“Godspeed, Captain. I shall reach the pole and return.”

Kuralt nodded, but did not speak further. He had meant to say, “See that you do,” but he could not bring himself to tempt the Fates, or otherwise put voice what he felt in his chest—a disquieting foreboding, much like the coming onset of some malady that might prove a challenge to the doctor, if not to the clinging hand of life itself. Instead, he turned his eyes from the already tired explorer, placed his hand on the railing and gazed down upon the men at work.

*****

Twenty-five men and forty dogs watched as the Invincible belched steam. Her whistle blew a shrill goodbye as two sets of men who had been intimately intermingled for the past week waved to each other across the Antarctic air.

“Let’s move a bit towards land, shall we?” Gleese stated. “I wish to be away from these cliffs before we make camp for the night. Mr. Tomaroff, how far off is the land mass, would you say?”

“Fifty kilometres, no less,” Micail Tomaroff said. Tomaroff opened his pocket watch, then glanced up at the southern stars, as if confirming his calculations—a nod to the seemingly arcane science of celestial navigation. The sun was on the horizon, and would not quite disappear below it for several months to come, or at least not until the Antarctic fall, which would commence sometime in February, long after they were scheduled to depart this desolate and forbidding land.

“Very good. Mr. Kroones, please prepare the sleds for travel.”

“Sehr gut, Herr Gleese.”

Danish, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese were four languages that Gleese had not learned, or at least not well enough to carry on a conversation beyond an exchange of idiotic pleasantry. He could read Latin, some Greek, Gaelic, Chinese and Nipponese, and could speak some pidgin of the two Asian dialects—which was necessary in the far away Arctic—but English was his native language. While the language of Tennyson, if not of Chaucer and Mallory, was his favorite reading, he was forever mentally tethered to the American dialect of New England; that of Washington Irving and Thoreau, of Thomas Paine if not Thomas Jefferson, was how he best thought. That few of his own expeditionary party could converse with him intelligently could ultimately prove costly if luck refused to hold, as Kuralt had pointed out to him when the Argentinians had signed on en masse, lured as they were by the legendary weight of Gleese’s purse. He had largely and single-handedly depopulated the Falklands of male Argentinians, and all for filthy lucre. Some might die during the expedition, particularly if they did not heed the regulations—no wandering away from camp solo, even to relieve themselves, and not without rope.

The most dangerous foe, if it were not the ice and the wind itself, was the stealthiest, most hidden quarry imaginable; that of crevasse. He had personally witnessed a man swallowed whole by an opening in the ice that had not existed a moment before. Swallowed so utterly and completely that it was as if the man had never existed. And it did so even more abruptly than a cry could escape the lips.

No. He would not allow this to be. He resolved to spend a portion of time each evening learning Portuguese, Danish and Russian.