Saturday, October 01, 2022

50. The White South by Hammond Innes

Look at this beauty!
For some reason, I had never read anything by Hammond Innes before this.  Somewhere online (Paperback Warrior?), somebody recommended him and gave a list of his best works.  I also can not remember where I found this copy, which is right in my perfect nostalgia period of Fontana paperbacks.  I grew up on the Desmond Bagley's with the white background and great realistic illustrations.  This one was in great condition, possibly never even read.  I felt bad opening it up.  I spoke with my dad who was the one who turned me on to this genre and he too had never read any Hammond Innes.  Odd, feels like an error on our part now that I have finished The White South.

It's not a mastperiece, so I'll get some of the minor flaws out of the way first.  The antagonist is great in concept, the sociopathic failson who wants to take full control of his father's whaling business.  In execution, however, he is just so extreme and his threat so obvious and the protagonist so dumb and stubborn to not deal with him earlier, that reader frustration deflates a lot of the potential conflict and excitement.  Fortunately, the situation itself, being trapped on an ice floe in Antarctica, is the real conflict.  The descriptions of the ice and the environment are incredibly well-written. I've read the Shackleton book which is bonkers.  Innes really amps it up here.  As a reader, you get these incredible combinations of human  stamina and will confronting the craziest ice and winter phenomena.  I will resist sharing any specifics because that really is the fun of the read.  Suffice it to say that it goes far beyond just having to survive in the cold.   There is some great action against the elements here.  I don't know how much research Innes did, because some of it is so wild it almost seems fantastic, but never unbelievable.

Another great element, which keeps the beginning moving forward, is the detailed description of the horrible enterprise of industrial whaling.  I somehow had it in my naive head that whaling was still just one ship with a harpoon.  Of course, humans with technology will always invent the most extreme and efficient way to destroy the planet and here we have a fleet with explosive-headed harpoons that then drag the whales to what is basically a floating processing factory.  It is fascinatingly horrific to read about, both for the individual horror of murdering a fellow (and basically superior) species on this planet and the collective horror of seeing how efficiently we killed them in entire pods.  Innes describes it all clearly and almost matter-of-factly (he doesn't impose the moral outrage I do here).  Likewise, he does a good job of portraying the labour relations, though in the best colonial practice, the bosses here also do get their hands dirty.

Definitely going to keep an eye out for more of these early Hammond Innes.

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