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    puts the human in science

    When asked to answer, in one sentence, why she wants to come to the South Pole, artist Cooper Gosling quotes Apsley Cherry-Garrard of the Scott Pole expedition: “If you are a brave man, you will do nothing; if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery.” As a confessed coward, this main character in Ashley Shelby’s debut novel (based on her sister’s experience), fits among misfits, loners, and outcasts all running from something in the “real world” to this desolate alternative universe, the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. But could they end up running to each other? Join the “Polies,” scientists (beakers), maintenance (nailheads), artists/writers/dancers/sociologist grant recipients, cooks, and administrators as they build community and get to the heart of some of the world’s most pressing concerns. The central conflict in the novel surrounds the arrival of Frank Pavano, a scientist whose work conflicts with all the others’. Backed by big business and Congress lobbyists, Pavano’s work questions climate change, namely, that humans create it. While Sal Brennan, a physicist at the Station, leads a revolt against Pavano, making it nearly impossible for him to work, Cooper befriends him. Pavano reminds Cooper of her twin brother, David, whose memory haunts her. Side conflicts - lovers’ spats, kitchen feuds, pool tournaments, medical emergencies - provide humor while Pavano’s presence threatens overall progress at the station. Setting aside differences, the crew rallies around Cooper’s personal mission to put her brother’s memory to rest. She’s a microcosm of what the South Pole means to everyone who’s there, just as the South Pole Station is a locus of scientific inquiry to the wider world. Shelby manages to elucidate big ideas at stake - climate change vs. denial, the Big Bang vs. the Big Bounce, and other theories - while not overwhelming readers with science. Set against these debates, the book is about a cast of brilliant and unforgettable personalities who care about the fate of their world, both large and small. With journalistic attention to facts and novelistic character development and drama, Shelby makes clear that individual stories matter to the bigger picture.

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