Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Coldest War

Short Story by Matthew Johnson

Two Canadian Army rangers, Gord and Stan, occupy a tiny arctic island, setting off a flare each day to prove they are still there. Because of a now-open sea passage, they worry a Danish commando team may try to kill them. One day Gord doesn't come back...

I liked the story well enough, winter survival with a hearty dose of paranoia. But despite what some reviewers say, this is no Jack London. Or James van Pelt for that matter. Not that it isn't good, but I never really feared for death by freezing, only snipers and insanity. The psychological worries are a nice addition, without them this would have been too pedestrian for me, but even if the main character might be insane, it is more interesting, but still not great.

I also have trouble with plausibility here. Not that Canada and Denmark would feud over an island, I believe that in an instant, but that a flare you can trigger with a foot lever is sufficient proof of occupation, rather than proof of a robot built to send off a flare. And that 24 hours without a flare would be sufficient for the island to be declared uninhabited and Canada would have to cede control of it. Or that if all these things are true and Canada fears Danish assault, they would only station two guys instead of a larger team.

Implausible, a bit simplistic, but tense and exciting. 3 out of 5.

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