Review: THIRST by L.A. Larkin

awwbadge_2013I had planned to read something else as my first book for this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge but when the mercury headed beyond 40ºC locally I felt the need to virtually head somewhere nice and chilly. Set amidst the icy crevasses and snowy blizzards of Antarctica, THIRST fit the bill nicely.

As I discovered when participating in the global reading challenge there is a certain ‘sameness’ to the relatively small number of fictional tales in this setting: they are almost all action-packed thrillers with clearly defined bad guys trying to do something awful while good guys try to stop them (and cling on to their own lives in the process). Broadly THIRST, set in the near future, does conform to the tropes but it is a highly entertaining addition to this tiny sub sub-genre of novels.

ThirstLarkinLA17249_fIn this instance the bad guys are led by wealthy Chinese businessman Robert Zhao Sheng who is hell-bent on extracting Antarctica’s fresh water, ostensibly to save his over-populated country from the very real threat of running dry really to prove to his abusive tyrant of a father that he is not the useless nothing dear old dad believes him to be. Larkin’s done a nice job drawing this character who is entirely unlikeable but for whom I couldn’t help but feel a shred of sympathy as I pondered how much damage has been wrought upon the world because of astonishingly shitty parenting.

Central among the good guys is Luke Searle a half-Australian, half-French glaciologist working at a fictional Australian station. He and a small group of researchers are gearing up for the long Antarctic winter…seven months during which it will be impossible to leave or have new people arrive as ships cannot make it through the ice…when the ice harvesting plans require putting Hope Station, and its inhabitants, out of action. During the attack several of Luke’s colleagues are killed and the rest must go on the run: an activity which has all the danger you might imagine of such inhospitable terrain. Mayhem ensues.

This is Larkin’s second novel and, for me at least, a better read than her first in which I struggled to believe the characters’ behaviour and motivations. Even in thrillers, where the action-packed plots require a willingness to suspend disbelief at the outset, a reader needs to be able believe that the characters would do and say the things they are doing and saying in the context of the world created for them. We also need to be provided with enough details about their personalities to care whether the good guys triumph or not. Happily that was the case with THIRST. I certainly wanted the despicable Mr Zhao Sheng to come to a grizzly end and was mentally cheering on Luke, his station leader Maddie and the Russian tour guide they picked up in their escape. And I have to say the story was a ripper of a yarn, keeping me happily absorbed in its chilly action while the mercury soared.

It’s clear from the content (and an afterword) that Larkin has done a lot of research for this book but it’s incorporated pretty well into the story without sound too lecturish. I particularly liked the way she included some titbits about the history of Antarctic exploration, a subject I have become fascinated with thanks to our state museum’s excellent Australian Polar Collection and associated exhibits. The environmental themes she explores are also backed up  well and it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine some version of this future for our poor, mishandled planet. All in all THIRST is a thoroughly enjoyable romp that should give you a little pause for thought about a world in which water is fought over in the way oil is today.

Publisher: Pier 9 [2012]
ISBN: 9781741967890
Length: 501 pages (actually this doesn’t sound right, it was the first book I’ve read via iBooks and unlike other eBook platforms the pagination appears to not be static so it changes with font size and orientation of the screen – the paperback is 332 pages for more of a guide)
Format: eBook (via iBooks)
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Review: THE GENESIS FLAW by L.A. Larkin

In the near future Gene-Asis is an influential company which produces genetically modified seeds that company marketing material claims will solve world hunger due to their higher yields and resistance to the various disasters that can befall traditional crops. But young advertising executive Serena Swift thinks the company, or at least the seeds it produced, was responsible for her father’s recent death from lung cancer. When the CEO of the Asia-Pacific arm of the company commits suicide in his Sydney office and a scientist who had been involved in a particular set of food trials disappears it seems Serena may be right in thinking there is something worth covering up.

I was pre-disposed to liking this book, being generally ready to believe that big corporations have the ethics of alley cats as I am. The fact that in this instance the cover up involves some fairly abhorrent practices that have at least a passing resemblance to those carried out by real-world companies like Monsanto should have sealed the deal on my enjoyment as I do have very real concerns about those practices. But I’m afraid this book never quite sold its premise to me, spending too much time focusing on its heroine and her endless loop of pretend-guilt over her continued manipulation of the men around her and not enough time establishing exactly what Gene-Asis was doing and what impact its behaviour was having on its victims. Only towards the very end of the novel (the last dozen or so pages) do we get any real sense of the victims of Gene-Asis’ behaviour and it was too late to engage my sympathy.

I should also have enjoyed the gender role reversal from traditional thrillers with the hero role being taken on by a woman. Unfortunately I didn’t particularly like Serena and nor, more importantly, did I believe her as a character. The fact she starts the book as an advertising executive does, I admit, speak to my own prejudice (I hate advertisements and am not overly keen on the people who make them) but even without that I can’t see that I would ever have taken a shine to her. She chose to go to a job interview rather than attend her father’s death bed. Admittedly she didn’t know exactly when he would die but I couldn’t help but think a less selfish person would have put the job hunting on hold for a few days. That aside, we are then supposed to believe that even though she couldn’t miss a single job interview for her father she would put her whole life in turmoil to avenge his death. Perhaps she was meant to motivated by guilt but it seemed to me the beginning of a very self-absorbed kind of focus for the novel. When she starts using her oft-mentioned (very oft) incredible beauty to trick a series of gormless men into taking ridiculous risks to help her out of various tight situations she lost any vestige of interest I had in her. Apparently she failed to notice any irony in the fact that she was doing exactly what she accused the big bad company of, i.e. exploiting anyone she could in any way she could regardless of the risk to them because she needed a certain outcome. I suppose the fact that she verbally beat herself up for a nanosecond or two after each such encounter was meant to separate her from the guilt-free evil businessmen. I’d be curious to know what younger readers make of the book as I did wonder if my inability to relate to Serena was at least partly to do with our age difference (she is mid 20’s I think and I am mid 40’s).

The book did zip along at a fast pace as thrillers are meant to do and the science seems pretty credible. Certainly the computer hacking (a subject I at least know a little something about) is within the bounds of possibility. I think if you found Serena a more sympathetic character than I did you’d find the book a pretty good way to while away a summer afternoon or two.

L.A. Larkin was born in Britain but emigrated to Australia in 1998 and worked as a magazine publisher before studying corporate responsibility, sustainability and strategic public relations and moving on to work for one of Australia’s leading climate change consultancies. She now divides her time between writing thrillers, her public speaking engagements and running thriller writing courses. The Genesis Flaw is her debut novel.

My rating: 2.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website:
Publisher: Pier 9 [2010]
ISBN: 9781741967883
Length: 362 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: I bought it
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