I received a thoughtful and detailed review of South Pole Station from Stephanie Shapiro over at The Buffalo News. Just a warning: there are spoilers in this review.
This is a long, fantastic list of books that should go straight to your to-read pile. I was lucky enough to see South Pole Station on the list.
"Just when you think you’ve seen all the books, along comes a comedy of manners about climate change starring a ragtag team of cultural misfits at the edge of the world. Shelby’s novel grew out of a(n award-winning) short story, but its scope is capacious."
Hugely talented cli-fi writer Eric Shonkwiler, author of Above All Men, 8th Street Power & Light, and other books, reviewed South Pole Station over at The Coil this week. He's a no-nonsense, tough critic so his praise means a great deal to me.
I have the hardest working publicist in publishing. I received two more reviews over this holiday weekend, including one from critic Heller McAlprin out of WNYC.
An excerpt from McAlprin's review: "Shelby's writing is pithy and funny, and her band of eccentrics are scrappy loners who are best suited to the company of other loners.... In this unusual, entertaining first novel, Ashley Shelby combines science with literature to make a clever case for scientists' and artists' shared conviction that "the world could become known if only you looked hard enough."*
* I'd like to point out that this review is not without its thoughtful criticisms of certain aspects of the book.
LitHub highlighted South Pole Station as one of "16 Books You Should Read this July" and though I am way out of my league in terms of the other writers selected, you know I'll take this in a hote second:
"In this terrific debut, Ashley Shelby achieves not only that but also a grand sense of comedy. Her protagonist, Cooper Gosling, is a struggling painter, guilt-suffering daughter, and in the midst of finding her way after a family tragedy. When she’s offered the chance to join an artist colony at the South Pole, she figures an adventure is just what she needs to jump-start her life. What follows is a lovely, satirical, and emotionally complex novel about coming to terms with heartbreak and re-finding one’s self through art."
South Pole Station was reviewed in the Sunday, July 2nd edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, with the tag line "Science needn't fear scrutiny--if it's any good. Same with people."
Booklist is geared toward librarians, and the reviews are mostly written by them as well, which is why I'm so thrilled to have received this thoughtful review from them!
"Cooper Gosling has passed the rigorous physical and psychological tests required to spend a year in Antarctica in the National Science Foundation's Artists and Writers program. A talented painter who, at 30, has not yet realized her potential, Cooper is recovering from a family tragedy and looking for escape. She finds herself integrating with a community that includes scientists, artists, builders, and support staff with wildly different personalities, each seeking or fleeing something. Drawn to Sal, a physicist intent on disproving the Big Bang theory and assisting a climate change denier with his research, Cooper finds herself at the center of an incident with long-range implications for the station and its inhabitants. Journalist Shelby's first novel eschews easy choices and treats interpersonal relations, grief, science, art, and political controversy with the same deft, humorous hand. Readers will find characters to love, suspect, and identify with among Cooper's fellow Polies and won't forget them easily. A good match for readers whose interest in Antarctica was sparked by Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette? (2014), those who enjoy stories about quirky individuals and made families, and extreme armchair travelers.
I cannot tell you how many issues of Bookpage I've flipped through on trips to the library. I'm so excited to see South Pole Station reviewed in its pages.
"Throughout witty, often hilarious scenarios, Shelby expertly weaves in the legitimate political and environmental concerns of climate change faced by the worldwide scientific community today. Shelby’s exploration of the human spirit continuously digs deeper, ever in search of answers to all of life’s important questions— scientific and otherwise."
You can find the full review here.
Unaccountably, Time magazine chose South Pole Station as one of their summer books "to read now." I'm so grateful for and also bewildered by the attention for this strange comedy of errors.
There's no way I can slow play my delight and gratitude at this Kirkus review of South Pole Station. I think many writers have that "Ideal Reader" in mind when writing a book--I know I do--and this mystery reviewer just might be that person. I'll even take the "far-fetched political conspiracy" rap on the knuckles and say: "what isn't far-fetched at South Pole Station"?
"In the messy human petri dish at the South Pole, a comic novel brews. Shelby begins her smart and inventive first novel with 11 italicized questions plucked from a psychiatric evaluation: "Are you often sad? Do you have digestion problems due to stress? Do you have problems with authority?..." Any American headed to Antarctica in 2003 via the National Science Foundation must answer them. It's a nifty way to unpack character and signal why her heroine, Cooper Gosling, has passed only provisionally. Cooper is 30, a drinker and a fine arts painter from the upper Midwest, a smartass who holds that "hotdish had never received its gastronomic due and the fake Minnesota accents in Fargo were the blackface of regional phonology." Fetching and witty, Cooper becomes the station chief's favorite and irresistible to a tall and handsome astrophysicist. Their attraction—one of the novel's key pleasures—is telegraphed within the first few pages. Readers also learn early that Cooper is fleeing the sorrow of her twin's recent suicide; she carries a pinch of his ashes in a travel-size Tylenol bottle. Thus, Shelby balances Eros with Thanatos in a story composed of barbed dialogue, email, and official memos. A climate-change skeptic arrives to bedevil the polar community, hatching a far-fetched political conspiracy. Clearly, the writer likes agita—politics mixed with science fuels Red River Rising (2004), her nonfiction book about the catastrophic 1997 flood in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She writes well about science and the peculiar, pressurized human ecosystem at the bottom of the world. Bozer, a polar station construction chief, gets his own point-of-view chapter, and it lifts him from caricature to one of the best aspects of the book. Hovering over all is Cooper's sort-of "spirit animal," the British explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard, who wrote the Antarctica classic The Worst Journey in the World. This new book would no doubt confound him but, in the end, bring him delight. Jokes lubricate a moving and occasionally preposterous story of love and death in the Antarctic cold.
Slate published a short piece I wrote on how I deal with my "climate rage" through fantasy, after spending the last five years writing a novel with a climate denialist character.
For a writer with a long history of rejection--like all writers--it can be a little confusing to get two pieces of positive feedback in one day. Does. Not. Compute.
Thanks to the kind words and nominations from a number of independent booksellers across the country, South Pole Station is an Indie Next Great Reads pick for July!
As if that wasn't enough to keep me going for the next six months, Shelf Awareness and literary doyenne Marilyn Dahl gave SPS a rave review: "With South Pole Station's satire, science, wry wit and warmth, Ashley Shelby has written one of the best novels of the year." You can read the review here (scroll to the bottom of the page).
After years of riding the C train downtown to work and sneaking peeks of other commuters' copies of the New York Post over their shoulders, it's surreal to see South Pole Station named as one of the paper's "29 Best Books of the Summer." I'm outclassed by the likes of Tom Perotta, Ruth Ware, W. Kamau Bell, and other luminaries, but man if I'm not grateful to be the canape-serving waiter at the same party.
Not all novels, especially debut novels, are guaranteed trade reviews, so I consider it a privilege to have garnered reviews for South Pole Station in Library Journal (starred review) and Publishers Weekly. Both summarize the book quite well. Only the Publishers Weekly review is online at this time, but here's a pull quote from the Library Journal review:
"Shelby's first novel, based on a short story that won the Third Coast Fiction Prize, skillfully weaves science, climate change, politics, sociology, and art. All readers of fiction, particularly those interested in life in extreme climates, will find [South Pole Station] appealing."
I am stoked and surprised to have been named a finalist for the 2017 Al-Simak Award for Fiction, a prize given out by Arcturus, a publication of the Chicago Review of Books. "Honeymoon in Temporary Locations" is a short story set in a post-climate impact America and is an homage to Nabokov's "That in Aleppo Once."
In addition, here is winner Amanda Kabak's "The Republic of Kansas." In case you didn't know, Amanda is also published by Midwestern Gothic, which is quietly publishing some of the most talented writers working right now, including Eric Shonkwiler. It is more than worth your while to check them out.
I was lucky enough to have been named winner of the KYSO Flash "One Life, One World" writing contest, with a strange work of hybrid climate fiction ("cli-fi" to the uninitiated) titled "Ersatz Cafe Post-Climate Impact Menu."
It's a short read--around 700 words--and, like several of my other recently published pieces, it imagines a somewhat quotidian public communication set in a post-climate impact America.
The Twin Cities were recently taken over by some of the most vigorous defenders of our democracy: independent booksellers. The American Booksellers Association (ABA) held its Winter Institute in Minneapolis this year, and I was lucky enough to be part of an affiliated event at Milkweed Books. Reading Group Choices recommends books to book clubs across the country, providing information and even discussion guides. South Pole Station was recently chosen as a featured RGC title, despite the fact that it doesn't come out until early July, and so I had the privilege of being part of RGC's Winter Institute event at the Open Book Center this past weekend. Though it sounds like an introvert's nightmare, the "author speed-dating" event was lots of fun. I was able to pitch my book to a number of book clubs and practice delivering lines like: "MASH set in Antarctica--but more deranged" and "The Nest...with beards."
But more important. I learned about some other excellent books that are soon to be released or have recently been released and I wanted to share a few of those titles with you, because they sound excellent.
I happen to live in a state--Minnesota--that deeply values its artists, writers, and other creative types. A handful of years ago, we actually voted to add an amendment to our state constitution, called the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment. Basically, this amendment ensures that our natural resources, as well as our creative resources, are protected, via taxpayer funds. Bear in mind that taxpayers voted for this amendment--an act of generosity and community that has become astonishingly rare. I pay into this pool as a Minnesota taxpayer, but I've also been the recipient of my fellow citizens' largesse. In 2010, I received a Minnesota State Arts Board grant to work on a book. Five years later, South Pole Station was sold to Picador.
Now, I'm not going to lie to you and say that the book for which I received the 2010 grant was the exact same book I ended up with in 2015, but without that grant, I would never have had a chance to write it. I was the mother of two very young children (3 and 1 years old) and had a full-time freelance editing career. Writing, if I could manage it, took place well after midnight. The grant I received allowed me to pay for preschool for my older son so I could write while my baby daughter slept. I've always been intensely grateful for the support I received from the State Arts Board and it was incredibly gratifying to be able to acknowledge my fellow Minnesotans in the acknowledgments of my book. Even more so, actually, because last week--six years after applying for my first grant--I received another grant, this time to bring my book (and myself--package deal) to bookstores and libraries in greater Minnesota. In addition, I am planning a free workshop on agents and publishing (a seminar I have taught for Loft Literary Center) for low-income writers. Again, this is all made possible by the good people of Minnesota.
I share all this because perhaps it may serve as a reminder that financial support for working artists is absolutely crucial to productivity. This is especially true of working parent-writers. I feel pretty confident in saying that South Pole Station would not have been finished if I hadn't received that first Minnesota State Arts Board grant--not just because the money enabled me to decline a few freelance projects in order to write, but because it was a vote of confidence in me. Someone thought I was worth taking a risk on. And, like the other grant recipients, I imagine, I considered this grant a sacred trust between myself and my fellow citizens.
Would you consider an absurdly detailed, fictional LinkedIn job posting set in post-climate change impact America readable, let alone nomination-worthy? Me either, but for some reason the editors and fellow writers at Alternating Current's The Coil do. First, they kindly published "LinkedIn Thought You Might Be Interested in this Post-Climate Impact Job: Environmental Migrant Management and Soil-Free Solutions" this past spring. Then, I got my own personal October surprise when they announced that they had nominated my story, along with Seth Clabough's haunting "It Won't Always Be Like This," for a Best of the Net Award.
Sundress Publications' Best of the Net Awards aims to highlight work being published by some of the finest online literary publications, the idea being that fiction, poetry, and nonfiction published online does not receive the kind of attention it should. I have a more important question, however: listed among the fiction readers for this honor are: "Katie Bell" (Hogwarts?), "Kristen Chenoweth" (famous triple-threat), and "Courtney Cox" (actress, Bruce Springsteen fan). Doppelgangers or the real deal?