Sunday, July 7, 2013

Book: Terminal Freeze

(Image from C/W Mars catalog)

Terminal Freeze by Lincoln Child is a very good novel that is actually a little difficult to talk about without giving too much away.  Set in Alaska’s Federal Wildlife Zone, it follows a team of scientists on an expedition to study the effects of global warming as well as gather information about the ancient ecosystem of the area.  One day while gathering samples, the team discovers a creature in the ice that challenges their scientific knowledge and wreaks destruction upon the entire expedition.  Although it has all of the elements of science fiction, and would actually be a fantastic basis for a movie, the story does not get weighed down in the science but instead is mostly suspenseful, with a slow development of the plot that keeps interest up throughout the whole book.
     **SPOILER ALERT: reading farther may spoil the book**
My favorite part of the book has to be the monster and the fact that there is no clear answer as to exactly what it is or where it comes from.  The descriptions of it start off as very vague but even as they get more detailed, it is still difficult to picture exactly what it looks like because it is a creature so ancient and outside our realm of understanding, whether you take the scientific or the spiritual view of its origins.  But like every good monster, it is based in some reality, and at its most basic, I pictured the creature as being an extra large version of one of my best friends’ cats, which is black and part Maine coon with large, bright yellow eyes (see picture below).  And just because it is never explained what the creature is, it does not mean that it cannot be killed, although in no ordinary way.
My friend's cat, Cash. This is what I imagine the monster to at least partially look like.
That is one of the great things about this story; even though it raises many questions, especially about what the creature is and where it came from, those questions do not impede the progress of the plot, so the story still feels complete and has a satisfactory ending, even though those questions are never answered.  When the creature’s body mysteriously disappears before they can examine it, along with the other problems such as the storm and the blood red Northern Lights, it is clear that the problem of the creature has been resolved for now, even if none of the scientists can satisfactorily explain what happened or how to prevent another such incident from happening again in the future.  There is a scientific explanation, a spiritual explanation from the local Tunit tribe, as well as a more outlandish explanation given at the end by the three main characters who survive, but there is little discussion or evidence to support one story over the others.  I really like that about the story because sometimes having all of the answers and having everything neatly categorized and explained takes the fun and thrill out of the story.  It is highly reminiscent of The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, even though Terminal Freeze is more science fiction than magical realism. 
On the whole, Terminal Freeze works so well as a novel because it focuses on telling the story of what happens to this scientific expedition once the creature is released, rather than trying to contextualize and explain away everything that happens.  There is a perfect mix of science, suspense, and action that allows for the story to move along without getting bogged down in the debate of science versus religion.  The story is also written in such a way, that it really keeps the reader involved and engrossed in the story.  Even the open-endedness of the story lets the reader decide for himself or herself, if they so choose, how to interpret what the creature is and what really happened.  It is an excellent example of writing that walks the line between science fiction, mythology, and suspense in a way that works only to keep the reader interested rather than lost in any one genre.
Child, Lincoln. (2009) Terminal Freeze: A Novel. New York: Doubleday.

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