The Magnetic North

magnetic northI finished reading The Magnetic North by Sarah Wheeler the other week, the book chronicles her journeys around the Arctic Circle from Siberia through Alaska and Greenland and ending in the European Russia by of Svalbard and Lapland.

Each region merits a chapter of its own and through her experiences in the 21st Arctic we experience the stories of the far North, the search for the North West Passage and the North East Passage, shoe eating sailors and scurvy, Incompetence, resilience and determination of countless heroes and charlatans. Alongside the relentless push of European exploration there were and are the Arctic people’s narratives as they are cut away from their centuries old ways of living ‘with the environment’ not in spite of it.

The twentieth century is dominated by Soviet and US nuclear submarines stalking each other under the ice, the North Pole being the shortest route for ICBMs to travel to their respective opponent’s nation. While the twenty first century is characterised by the desperate grasp of a fossil fuel rush for oil and gas as the permafrost and ice retreat, a case of environmental chicken and egg.

My work in progress is set on a future Earth where temperatures have risen and much of the population live above the Arctic Circle. Although I did not buy The Magnetic North for research (it has been sat on my bookshelf unread and unloved since 2010) it has proved itself a timely read, and will allow me to bring deeper insights into my own writing.

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