Sometimes I think literary journals are single-handedly keeping the written word alive. I learned this weekend that one of those excellent journals, KYSO Flash, nominated my flash piece "Ersatz Cafe Post-Climate Change Impact Menu" for a Pushcart Prize. It's my second time being nominated. Maybe one of these days, a story of mine will take!
In August, I wrote a piece for LitHub called "Toward a New Climate Change Genre: First Impact Fiction," in which I described my own recent fiction about a climate-impacted United States as a version of "cli-fi" that deals in the first impacts of widespread climate change. As more books are published dealing with what is currently considered a speculative view of our world in the midst of climate change, the term is gaining some traction. Check out this excellent review in the Los Angeles Times of Maja Lunde's The History of Bees:
"...the tripartite structure also allows for what the novelist Ashley Shelby recently described as First Impact Fiction: fiction set in more or less the present day, which depicts “our shared world as the impacts of runaway climate change begin to make themselves known.”
At what point, I wonder, will "cli-fi" simply become "contemporary fiction." I'm afraid that day may not be as far off as we might hope.
I was so geeked to be able to travel over to Minnesota Public Radio's St. Paul studio last week to record this interview with writer and radio producer Tracey Mumford. We talked science, South Pole, climate change, and pee cans.
There's a line in a John Mellencamp song that I love--"Small Town"--that pretty much sums up my feelings about seeing South Pole Station reviewed in the pages of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. That line is: "I'm still hayseed enough to say look who's in the big town."
Update: South Pole Station was named a New York Times Editor's Choice!
Dr. Amy Brady's "Burning Worlds" column over at Chicago Review of Books is one of my monthly must-reads, so I was honored when she asked for an interview regarding South Pole Station, my reporting on ExxonMobil and the aftermath of the Valdez spill, and how empathy plays a role in understanding climate denial.
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.