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Siberia 56 h/c

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Siberia 56 h/c back

Christophe Bec & Alexis Sentenac


Page 45 Review by Stephen

From the writer of CARTHAGO, the sub-aquatic, shark-infested shiver-fest featuring razor-sharp teeth embedded in a mouth big enough to engulf a bathysphere as if it were a bonbon. That mouth belonged to an eighty-foot long Megalodon, a species of shark which didn't have the decency to die out 2.6 million years ago as we were all promised.

This too has teeth, but they feature in a future so far off that I probably don't have to dread its arrival. They're also found only on a planet so far away that I'm unlikely to stray there by mistake, even with my preternatural ability to catch the wrong bus.

Let's hear the low-down on SIBERIA 56 from its publisher, shall we?

"It is the age of space exploration, and five scientists travel 80 million light years from home to study the planet of Siberia, the location of Earth's 56th colony. Covered with dense snow and steep mountains, Siberia's poles reach temperatures of -300° F with icy winds of close to 200 mph."

It's not that much more clement at its tropics.

Now, I grant you that no one could possibly know what lurks thereupon until it is investigated, but I don't think it's the most massive leap of imagination or cold, deductive reasoning to extrapolate from a present rife with flying drones that this far-flung future might have satellites capable of picking up 600-foot, heavily armoured, ice-bound, predatory lampreys on the prowl which they have mis-monickered "snakes".

I'm pretty sure you wouldn't need frail feet on the ground before you discovered that.

They've a more plausible excuse for failing to identify the planet's even more antisocial alpha predator (no clues in this review), but even so: which particular meteorological property of this planet made it even a passing consideration as a potential colony when you've 55 others on the go?

At this point we're just talking about the weather. And since the daily weather is what human beings talk about most, I don't see anyone in their right minds decamping to Siberia 56 from infamously rain-drenched Britain let alone folks from Florida. Even Earth-bound Siberian inmates would probably decline swapping their current gulag for a life-long fling on a planet which would be equally fettered: with all-encompassing survival suits not to breathe oxygen but to quantifiably decrease the probability of contracting chapped lips.

With but a couple of exhibitions of extreme over-acting, the art on offer is ever so pretty. Sentenac excels at landscapes: landscapes which are as epic and as alien and as luminous as you'd like. That's why you're here. Alexis can also ramp up the tension like nobody's business when you're all alone on the glacier and you feel something very big and presumably ravenous thundering towards you and - not to be underestimated, this - underneath you.

But Sentec is left woefully adrift by Bec throughout on the cold, hard logic front. No, not just the logic front, but the story-building front.

The colonists' database seems of paramount importance throughout: that's what they've been sent there to construct from inexplicable scratch (see drones earlier) and the new expedition's greatest asset which they rely on in order to survive. Yet it has (firstly) the most implausible, negligent gaps when shit they knew simply wasn't entered, then (secondly), on narrative command, the most ridiculous leaps of instantly summoned stats derived from no discernible evidence.

And that destroys all the tension Sentenac attempts to build.

It's as if the writer lost his original map or his Card Index System and, with it, the plot.

In Christophe's defence, perhaps the translator was rubbish. I don't know because I haven't read the original. But we are told early on of the key subterranean carvings which reminded the crew of Lascaux cave paintings that...

"According to the analysis of the microresidue, these drawings were done with a metal tool. They're at least 60 million years old."

Okay, fair enough. So why are they referred to later on by beardy, irritatingly know-it-all, go-to scientist Boyett as "frescoes"? A fresco, by very specific definition, involves painting on plaster: painting on wet plaster most often, but certainly painting specifically on plaster and not "drawings done with a metal tool".

*grinds teeth*

It's far from the only ill-informed gaffe, but Giotto would be gurning in his grave.