Minus 55 degrees, zero visibility and a raging snowstorm. Nobody at Halley Station should be outside under these circumstances but the station doctor has just discovered that the cold weather gear of one of the scientists is missing from the boot room and according to the sign-in board he has gone to the met tower. Only a hundred metres’ walk but in this weather that’s a lot – and nobody has seen the man all afternoon. Besides, he’s not the meteorologist, so what was he doing there? Perhaps it’s time to get worried!
Contrary to what you might be thinking, the paragraph above is not the blurb from a bath-soaked thriller I’m reading (I’m reading The History of Spain Told for Sceptics), just an instinctive reaction to a blog I’ve been reading recently. A blog that, quite simply, made me itch to start writing a thriller – set on Halley VI, a British research station in Antarctica.
Dark Days at Ice Station Halley?
The hero could be the station doctor who fills in the time on his hands (people don’t land a job with British Antarctic Survey to work at Halley unless they’re pretty fit to begin with) with odd jobs from sorting mail to driving bulldozers – whatever an extra pair of hands is needed for. (This would obviously place him into an excellent position later in the story!) There would be various stereotypical characters that you could expect to find at a godforsaken Antarctic research station, such as:
- a rookie scientist on his first tour of the Antarctic who takes half an hour to climb into his cold weather gear and then gets lost in the fog while walking the 200 metres that separates his accommodation from the research lab
- a veteran pilot, who drinks far too much in secret
- a brilliant young technician (the son of single mother from a London council estate, obviously!), who can build a radio set even from a box of Legos if he has to
- the highly intelligent female scientist everybody is in love with (with the exception of the veteran pilot who hates women on account of his estranged wife)
- I haven’t thought of anybody else yet, although obviously, there’s the guy who has just disappeared!
At first our doctor would only notice some odd, inconsequential details like an empty petrol can left in the snow or that someone rummaged in the medicine cupboard (although nothing went missing). But halfway into the 105-days-long, fateful Antarctic night, the scientist would disappear during a howling blizzard, the fuel dumps would inexplicably go up in flames, people would be coshed in the dark boot locker and the relief flight of course would be held up by bad weather… And the only man the doctor could trust – a field assistant who really should have known better! – would fall into a crevice and break a leg so that he would be of no use whatsoever as a man of action. (Naturally.)
If I could also fit a submarine and some foreign spies in, then in fact it’d be a full modern Antarctic re-run of Alistair MacLean’s classic Cold War thriller, Ice Station Zebra (much recommended). And I would get all the couleur locale from the blog I mentioned above: from Dr Neil Spencer, the current station doctor on Halley VI.
(Perhaps I should point out that I’m only getting the couleur locale from him; the rest of the madness described above is entirely my own. Well. Heavily influenced by Alistair MacLean, obviously.)
Halley VI Doc
I’ve been trying to read Antarctic blogs for a while now. Trying to read, I say, because BAS bloggers are not famous for their consistency. They start off in a promising fashion (well, you always do manage to arrive to Antarctica), but thereafter? Work, internet outage and Antarctic weather conspire to make their blogging a sporadic business at best, often with months between entries. Often they descend into a bit more science than the general public might want them to, especially when it’s doled out in random doses. But I’ve got real high hopes for Dr Spencer, aka the Halley VI Doc.
First of all, so far he already logged five blog entries, more than many of his colleagues ever managed. Secondly, he regularly posts pictures on Instagram (maybe the Internet service is improving on Antarctica?). And finally, he’s entertaining and informative. In November he wrote about:
- how he landed his dream job with the British Antarctic Survey (you never know, you might want to copy him)
- about his journey to Antarctica (this was only the first time I saw a departure board which listed Antarctica as a destination)
- and about his first week at Halley VI (cue the obligatory cute penguin picture).
Although he then disappeared for a month and only just popped up again. But his latest post is such a complete tour of Halley VI, maps and photos included, that I couldn’t help starting to plot murder and mayhem.
Have a read: Halley VI Doc
(PS. While I was busy writing this, he wrote another post. I’m off to read it now.)
You might also like: ⇒ Just One More Page: some real page-turners to read during the long Antarctic night! ⇒ How to Fail as a Blogger (In 5 Easy Steps): invaluable advice for beginning bloggers, whether or not employed by BAS ⇒ Wet Book Rescue: for BAS employees who didn't pack their books carefully enough!