Big Ice
Christopher Bonn Jonnes
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Big Ice
Christopher Bonn Jonnes
248 pages
June 2003
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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I approached Big Ice by Christopher Bonn Jones with some trepidation; Iíd recently read a dire novel based on the effect climate change is having on the polar ice caps. Coupling that with the dullness of Al Goreís An Inconceivable Truth, I wasnít much looking forward to reading yet more facts and figures of what life is going to be like when the Earth heats up even more.

Iím so glad I didnít - ahem - judge this book by its cover. This novel is so much more than a disaster story; in fact itís not a disaster story at all, despite what the words "melting polar ice caps" might mean to you.

Seth Peterson is a brilliant analyst working at Americas National Ice Center (N.I.C.), and heís spent a good portion of his adult life working on a theory that could possibly help predict which polar areas are most in danger of melting and when. This would, of course, make life much easier for governments around the world as -  a) theyíd know which areas are likely to need evacuating in the event of a mass meltdown of the poles, and b) they could accurately estimate the likely times of risk.

Sethís research could change the way people think about climate change; on a personal level, would propel him to Newton-style acclaim. The only problem isÖ well... Seth. He has a horrific case of shyness. He is so shy that he canít even speak to friends (not that he has many), let alone give an in-depth presentation on his research to a conference room packed with his fellow professionals and the worldís media.

Sethís immediate boss, Bern Harris, recommends he see a counselor. Seth reluctantly agrees in the hope of being able to keep his job. This is, however, the least of Sethís troubles. A rogue group of environmental terrorists has gotten wind of his research and will stop at nothing to discredit Seth so that his work never sees the light of day.

Big Ice is a wonderfully absorbing read. I have very little interest in climate change (although I know I should have), but Christopher Bonn Jonnes makes a dull subject extremely interesting. Despite the fact that much of this book is set inside a government research agency, he dumbs down the facts and figures so that reading Big Ice isnít like thumbing through a copy of someoneís dissertation. Thereís still a great deal of useful and accurate information in here; itís just that I didnít feel I needed a degree in environmental catastrophes to get through the book.

Warming up to Seth takes some time because he comes across as unapproachable and cold. This was probably meant as a clever narrative tool to make his character's illness more believable, but considering he is the main character, this makes for some frustrating reading. One criticism of Sethís character is the way he is able to turn on and off his shyness. In one chapter heís having trouble even talking to a couple of his colleagues and actually faints when asked to stand up in a departmental meeting, but twenty-some pages along heís found the courage to wisecrack a couple of police officers. I know that the story wouldnít be very interesting if Seth were struck mute with shyness every time he encountered another person, but extreme cases of shyness like this canít be overcome overnight. On just day three of his medication, heís able to leave it at home and function as normally as you or I. Artistic license gone mad!

The environmental terrorists Jonnes presents are a scary bunch who will, it seems, stop at nothing to disrupt Sethís life so he cannot carry on with getting his research published and funded. They murder and maim their way through the majority of the book until we finally find out exactly who they are and what they stand for.

The author obviously has a deep interest in climate change and passes on some knowledge by way of the well-written Big Ice. He tackles the (usually dull) subject in an upbeat manner and with such enthusiasm that he made me feel interested enough to carry on reading. He steers clear of using too many specialized words, which is great because I can, with no climate change interestÖ ermÖ I mean training, understand completely what heís talking about and put it into context with the current global situation.

Dialogue in the book is limited, which might be put down to Sethís problem, and this means that much of the text is descriptive. Bonn Jones is an absolute master of description; itís hard to believe this is only his second novel. By the fourth or fifth chapter, I had a picture of Seth, his office, even his apartment in my head; during a particularly graphic murder scene I could literally "see" the body as though it were in front of me.

All in all, this is a top novel. Itís managed to get me (slightly) interested in a subject which doesnít usually float my boat, and is a fas- paced, exciting book. If you decide to read it, the first few pages arenít the most interesting words in print. Bear with it; youíll soon find the story fits nicely together.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Christina Cooke, 2006

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