Reader Advisory: Reversal

Have you ever had one of those days where things go wrong, and then instead of straightening out, they just  go wronger and wronger until everything you know is just completely screwed up? Sasha has one of those. She’s the heroine in Reversal, Jennifer Ellis’s contribution to the Apocalypse Weird universe. And boy, does she have problems.

Sasha Wood, a twenty-something meteorologist, has just landed her dream job as a research assistant at the International Polar Research Station. There are the usual pitfalls of dealing with new situations: co-workers who run the gamut from friendly to hostile, the painful isolation of living at the top of the world, and the weird fact that climate change seems to be, well, reversing itself. Her workplace crush on Soren Anderson, the station’s caretaker and survival expert, does not help. But after six months of dealing with the hostile environment, she feels that she’s managed well enough.

Then the arctic literally explodes as meteors rain down, blasting open methane pockets in the permafrost. Planes streak overhead to crash into nearby mountains while an apparently worldwide episode of mass blindness causes panic all over the globe and wreaks havoc inside the research station. Sasha and her co-workers manage to cope in the face of ice storms, but at the loss of half her team to the elements. As if that’s not enough, there are strange fog banks rising up from the methane craters which twist time and space to create passageways between the arctic and antarctic circles. To add to the fun, the magnetic poles are wonky, all communications with the outside world are down, and the only voice Sasha can get on the radio is a crazy woman who chatters about the imminent arrival of The Dragon. We won’t even discuss the supposedly dead volcano that’s violently erupting in the south pole.

If all this sounds confusing, it’s because confusion is the name of the game in Reversal. Jennifer Ellis has created a scenario that manages to be both claustrophobic and agoraphobic simultaneously. As we follow Sasha through her attempts to make sense of what’s going on around her, Ellis gives us small pieces of a massive puzzle one by one and trusts her readers to put them together in their heads. Some of Sasha’s co-workers are Black Hands either by design or last minute recruitment, and allies and enemies appear from the wastelands and disappear right back into them. (The penguins are relatively benign but the polar bears are literally out for blood.) There is one fixed point in the narrative: when the member of the 88 who goes by the name “Paul” (short for “Pollution”) lets her know that the world is ending and she has a chance to work for him. She refuses and navigates Hell on Ice in an attempt to save her life and Soren’s. As Ellis describes it, think The Thing meets The Core.

There are times when the narrative bogs down between the snowmobile chases and the blind treks through ice blizzards, especially as we’re constantly trying to figure who is working for which side (and I would have liked more polar bears). There are a few details that never get resolved–is the Dragon real or not, and where the heck is he, was one of my personal nitpicks–but the final result is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through Ellis’s environmental nightmares.

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About Jon Frater

A gaming industry stalwart dating back to the 1980s, Jonathan Frater is the co-author of roleplaying game books Robotech: Return of the Masters, and Robotech Adventures: Lancer's Rockers, both for Palladium Books. Jonathan also wrote a column on writing and game design called The Tome in Gateways magazine. He's currently a librarian at Metropolitan College of New York. Article 9, the first in his ambitious Blockade Trilogy, is Jonathan's first full-length novel.

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