My Last Continent by Midge Raymond
There are many fascinating tales of early polar exploration, accounts of almost unbearable bravery, or foolishness in the far north or the far south, stories of survival or death on the ice. Some are referred to in a new novel, My Last Continent, by Midge Raymond.
There are not many people who have travelled to Antarctica but there are more and more each year, and their presence is having a detrimental effect on the environment and the penguin population. Midge Raymond’s concern for the changes that increased tourism have brought are behind her story of Deb Gardner, a scientist from Washington State, who studies penguin life in Antarctica over a number of years.
As the novel progresses we move back and forth from past to present, and then pass beyond the beginning of the story. We know from the beginning that there will be a shipwreck in Antarctica but we do not know the details until they are revealed late in the novel.
Though My Last Continent is about the Antarctic region it is very topical, as larger and larger ships, carrying more and more passengers are also travelling into the Canadian Arctic. Once only penetrable by relatively small ships, there are now ships that Midge Raymond describes as “floating theme parks” moving into more and more remote areas as the climate warms. Not that there is less danger. As we see in this story, though ships may be able to access areas where there was once more ice, if there is a problem and conditions change it may not be possible to evacuate such large numbers of passengers safely.
The scientists, who study the behavior of the penguin population, as Deb Gardner does, travel to Antarctica several times a year. Deb’s passage is secured on a ship taking a small number of passengers as tourists. Working for an agency that has a research base on Petermann Island, Deb has studied the same groups of penguins year after year. She has witnessed the changes that global warming has brought, but she does not interfere in the fate of penguin chicks even though she knows some will starve if there is not enough food for their parents.
Deb has made her work her life. When she meets Keller, a man who first comes to the south to escape his tragic past, she is reluctant to become involved, but their attraction is immediate and intense. Their relationship will have many challenges, but like the penguins they study, they have mated for life.
It is the love story that propels the novel but the dramatic tale of the attempt to save the passengers of a far-too-large ship is the most riveting part of the story, and makes this novel one worth reading.