Freezing Point, by Karen Dionne
FREEZING POINT , coming October 2008 from Berkley
When a crisis arises, there are generally two types of people who come to the forefront of the situation: Those who wish to solve the crisis, and those who would simply profit from it. In the ongoing debate between altruism-versus-capitalism there never seems to be a winner, hence the continued split. Some people are born to put themselves first, while others are predisposed to putting the needs of others above their own. And in smaller situations, this is all fine and well, but what happens when the crisis is global and when selfish or selfless decisions will affect billions rather than a handful of people?
This is one of the issues facing the players in debut novelist Karen Dionne’s environmentally-charged Antarctic adventure novel, Freezing Point. Environmental activist Ben Maki has come up with a way to help ease the world’s problem with contaminated drinking water: melting Arctic ice bergs. With microwave technology that can safely melt icebergs, tens of millions of people can benefit and be spared the injustice of not being able to drink clean water. It’s a grand idea.
But Donald Gillette, head of Soldyne Corporation—the company who is funding Ben’s work—has other plans in mind for the water that will be harvested from these efforts. Why use this water for the good of others—Say, those in Third-World countries—when you can bottle it up and make a pretty penny off the billions of gallons of water you’ll be able to sell? The ideological differences between Ben and Donald are apparent from the moment they appear together in the novel, and this is one of the novel’s greatest sources of tension.
Unbeknownst to these two however, are two larger, very unexpected threats. One of them is found in the person of Rebecca Sweet and her ecoterrorist group, POP. To them, icebergs are part of nature and should not be trifled with, so when she and her fellow environmental enthusiasts hear about Ben’s expedition and that a tanker will be transporting the water to Los Angeles for processing, they hatch a plan that aims to have explosive consequences for everyone involved. Save the water, save the world, as it were.
The second problem, however, is even worse. All the members of a research team on the Antarctic Peninsula have recently contracted a disease that is killing them off one by one, and the source of that problem is found in the water. The same water that came from the iceberg which split from the peninsula at the start of the novel and now is en route to Los Angeles. Of course, the reason the water there is contaminated is ever more sinister.
But because of their isolation no one knows about this. Contaminated water is bad enough, but what happens if the tanker reaches L.A. and some of the contaminants don’t get filtered out of the water before others get to drink it? And what if POP is able to complete their mission of blowing the tanker’s sky high, sending the contaminated contents back into the ocean, thinking they are doing Mother Nature a favor?
Like any good yarn, this novel is not about the people involved, but the greater issues at stake. Dionne wastes little time fleshing out the novel’s characters (and in fact really doesn’t give readers much of a reason to like, root for, or otherwise connect with any of them beyond their need to survive) and instead lets the action move the story along. Can you be altruistic and still make a profit? Is it evil or somehow unethical to do so? To want to do so? And when you are faced with life or death, which will you choose? Will you do anything to keep yours? To take that of another?
Freezing Point shines light on a very real problem—the lack of sufficient drinking water in the world for those in need of it—and the issues that surround the efforts of others to either address or ignore the issue. Even the well-intentioned efforts of some can be used for evil, and even those that are meant for a sort of good can go awry because of unknowns. Sometimes people aren’t the bad guys they are made out to be, but sometimes people aren’t really heroes either.
One thing is clear in this novel: everyone cares about the environment, just for different reasons. In the end, the question we are left to ponder is this: Why do you care about the environment?
Brian Palmer is a novelist and freelance music critic living in Oregon. His work has appeared in print and online publications such as Paste and Relevant. In his spare time, he heads up the child sponsorship program for the non-profit organization India Partners. indiapartners.org
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