| Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills
Published by Bloomsbury in 2005
Mode of travel: Ship, Trek
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It is the beginning of the century and two teams of explorers are racing across a cold, windswept, deserted land to reach the furthest point from civilization. It is, they find, 'an awfully long way'. Johns and his men take the western route, along a rocky scree, gossiping, bickering and grumbling as they go. Meanwhile, Tostig's men make their way along the dry riverbed in the east - they are fewer, with just five men and ten mules, and better organised than their rivals. But with Johns team keeping pace in the distance, the race is on to reach the Agreed Furthest Point.
Verdict: I really enjoyed it!
I thought Explorers of the New Century was just going to be a satire on the subject of scientific expeditions. You know, the styles and levels of organization, the clash of personalities, the competitive machismo and posturing (or wholesome, manly attitudes, depending on your point of view), the arbitrary goal, with the elusive Agreed Furthest Point (from civilization) and the unspecified date and location underscoring the abstract nature of the story. All that is there… except the goal… the goal really took me by surprise once I found out what it was. But then, everything that happened next, terrible and astonishing as it was, made sense in context.
Is Explorers of the New Century more than just a short little book which stuns the reader with an astonishing twist? It doesn’t waste words on unnecessary descriptions and analyses, but I think I would have enjoyed it if had been only the book I was expecting. The individual expedition members are all well differentiated and their interactions and contributions to their expeditions would still have made it an interesting and funny short read. The landscape is chilling in its otherworldly bleakness but the stark contrast between the routes taken by the competing expeditions heightens the difference between their methods, successes and failures.