It is a new century, an age of invention that fosters a spirit of cooperation. The finest minds gather to solve universal problems and societal ills, the citizens infused with a can-do spirit.
Spurred by a popular theme, The Theory of Transportation, two teams of explorers arrive at the edge of an untamed continent, one group perhaps Scandinavian and the other perhaps British, trekking towards the AFP, Agreed Farthest Point. One team, Johnsís, goes west overland, and the other, Tsotigís, charts their course through a dry riverbed.
Johnís expedition is larger, manned with volunteers, Tostigís smaller group, all seasoned professionals, gives the latter a confidence borne of their abilities. Leaving markers in the dry riverbed as guides for the second group to follow, Tostig is perplexed that Johnís has splintered off in an overland route. Assuming a contest is in the offing, Tostig informs his men they are rivals for the same goal.
So begins a two-pronged march toward the AGP. Each party driven by competition and appreciation of their task from a historical perspective, the care and keeping of their mules is integral to the ventures, the men rigidly controlled by military-like hierarchies of leader and trusted troops. Ultimately each group will be confronted by serious obstacles, given the uncertainty of the unknown terrain.
On the first day of the march, the Western group faces miles and miles of scree, their progress slowed by the uncertain surface, the mules unable to maintain secure footing. A further blow comes from the loss of one of the mules, precipitating small fissures in the carefully monitored discipline of the group.
Nothing in this adventure is as promised from the outset, no discernible physical markers or identifiable terrain. Human nature ever unpredictable, an undercurrent of discontent is set in motion by the subtle questioning of authority that occurs among the ranks. For the most part they soldier on, each step closer to the AFP bringing new challenges of adaptation and altered strategies for the same objective.
Mills frames this tale in the nobility of intent, the stark prose of man against nature, while laying the groundwork for a mind-bending twist that stops the reader cold. Whatever assumptions and preferences for either team, British or Scandinavian, volunteer or career, reality pales in the light of ideology.
The reader seduced by the excitement of well-written adventure, the entire premise is turned inside out in a shocking revelation. Life and death are at stake at every turn, but whose life and whose death, and who shall decide? As biting as the Arctic winds that buffet the travelers, Explorers of the New Century will leave you chilled and disturbed.