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Kansas English Vol 101, No. 1 (2020), 45
Moby-Dick Meets the Day after Tomorrow: Eco-Disaster and Salvation in Craig Russell’s Fragment
Reviewed by John Franklin
Craig Russell’s 2016 eco-thriller Fragment is a cautionary tale with nautical overtones. Like Herman Melville’s classic 19th-century American allegory Moby-Dick, the 214-page novel is encyclopedic in its presentation of scientific knowledge; unlike Moby-Dick, it is Wikipedic in its exposition of the potential effects of the ignorance of this knowledge. Though alarmist in its message, and matter-of-factly Naturalistic in its depiction of the deaths of tens of thousands of creatures both human and other, the book is ultimately Romantic as it presents Nature in simple language composed to improve society.
Set in contemporary times, its human heroes are polar climatologist Kate Sexsmith, astronomer Eric Lawson, and marine biologist Graham Palmer who survive an Antarctic catastrophe: glaciers create an iceberg the size of Texas that promptly erases New Zealander and American research stations from our planet’s face. Disaffectionately dubbed the Fragment by the trio, it barges its way into the sea thus initiating a chain of events that ultimately involve: the Lincoln, a US Navy ballistic nuclear missile submarine; a pod of blue whales; a cruise ship line that guarantees adventure; a chartered sailboat; television news crews; the Pentagon; the White House; the Caribbean; and, orcas. Ring, an unconventional blue whale, is the novel’s cetacean hero. While Fragment’s overall conflict is character versus environment, there are also fundamental clashes that reveal character versus society and characters versus other characters (the fight to the death between blue whale Ring and killer whale Bull is quite exciting!). After Graham Palmer cracks the whale-song code, the conflicts lead to an overall theme: if humans can learn to listen, then whales (symbolizing Nature) can save humanity.
The novel would appeal strongly to adolescents who enjoy reading the science of how humankind is on the brink of destroying our planet.
Fragment would easily slip into a unit of study that involves Earth Science, geography, history (especially that of Antarctic exploration), marine biology and meteorology. I envision a class project that edits images and data (here students could quote from the book) in a PowerPoint exposition designed to persuade an audience to follow the direction of a particular decision. I could also see students role-playing one of the news team announcers or one of the scientists in visual presentations. I imagine that those who challenge the book are those who deny global warming. For their children, Moby-Dick could serve as an alternative selection. Other choices might include Richard Henry Dana, Jr’s Two Years before the Mast, any of C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower books or Jules Verne’s classic 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.
Of particular interest to me is the affection that the submariners hold for the blue whale Ring. Akin in their mammalian underwater existence, the depth of understanding and respect these creatures have for one another is simply beautiful. In this relationship, Nature, technology and humanity intersect in ways wonderful to read.
— John Franklin
Amazing Stories Clubhouse, JULY 19, 2019
By R. Graeme Cameron
I can do no better than quote the blurb on the back of the book which is, after all, designed to convince you to buy it.
The Ross ice shelf in its entirety, an ice plateau 200 miles long, 100 miles wide, and 2,000 feet thick, is now drifting in the Eastern Current of the South Atlantic, the one current which sweeps completely around the world without interference from any land mass. Too dense to melt swiftly or break up easily, the Ross Shelf’s 500 billion tons of ice overrides everything in its path and is so massive it even affects the weather. I like the fact that Craig describes it as “the world’s largest man-made object” as a subtle hint of the effects of global warming.
The Other Threat:
The President of the United States is a climate change denier. Any and all evidence of global warming must be supressed, all attempts to cope with the consequences cancelled, and the public misled into believing all is well and there is nothing to worry about. What a silly concept. Of course all U.S. Presidents listen carefully to the advice and advocacy of the scientific institutions within the government (NASA, for instance), not to mention to the combined knowledge of the military, diplomatic, and Capitol Hill Corps. No president would ever throw out the advice of countless experts and wing it on his own. No President would ever say of global warming “I don’t believe it” and make that the sum total of his environmental policy. Could never happen. Why such cartoon villains are found only in James Bond films. What an unrealistic vision! Not credible at all!
Except, of course, Donald Trump was elected in November of 2016. Fragment was published the month before. Coincidence? Yes. Truth is, the novel has nothing to do with Trump. Craig began writing it in 2006. The character of the president he based in part on then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative who famously denied climate change and actively dismantled some government programs studying the problem. In one sense Trump’s election was pure serendipity for the author. What might have been dismissed by critics as stupidly unrealistic has proven horribly prescient. William Gibson said “The best science fiction is really about today.” Craig Russell hit that mark dead on. He chose Harper as an example of a breed of politician who represent a serious threat to our ability to cope with global warming, and it turns out Trump is the ultimate example of the type. In terms of relevancy to the world at large, the publication date couldn’t have been better timed.
The Real Threat:
The President’s political advisor is Norman Buchart, an amoral spin doctor whose sole purpose is to make the President look good and misdirect all negative publicity back on the President’s critics. Who cares if lives are threatened or the interests of the country are at risk? All that matters is maintaining the President’s popularity and taking advantage of each fresh disaster to make the opposition look like traitors. Both the President and Norman are perfectly willing to stretch or even break constitutional law and custom to get what they want. Sound familiar?
Craig has the knack of defining characters brilliantly with very few words in the course of an anecdote or two. In Norman’s case, it has to do with a legend associated with his childhood, that he read Machiavelli’s The Prince (a Renaissance-era manual on how to stay in power by screwing everybody else) at a very young age and burst out laughing, declaring it the funniest book he had ever read. Norman is such a professional cynic he would scare the hell out of Diogenes. Can’t turn your back on him for a second. Of course the President considers him his best buddy. He can’t afford not to. But Norman is not cruel, just calculating and ruthless beyond normal levels of sanity. The real sort of evil genius the world offers, as opposed to most fictional villains. A very credible character indeed.
The one science fiction element in Fragment is the premise that whales are as intelligent as human beings. This puts the novel into the category of “first contact with aliens turns out to be a species with whom we share our planet.” In the book the whales and the humans frantically attempt to interpret each other’s motivations and intent. No easy task given the historical baggage of whale harvesting and the fact (or alleged fact for the sake of the plot) that the modes of thought and the way they perceive the world around them are completely different.
Central to the credibility of the whales as characters, as important as any of the human characters, is the kind of background culture Craig creates for them, not to mention personal anecdotes giving insight into their individual personalities. In the case of Ring, the most important blue whale relevant to the plot, it is the vivid memory of witnessing his mother eaten alive by killer whales that stirs our sympathy. I still remember the National Geographic photos showing a pod of killer whales taking turns skimming strips of blubber from an unfortunate blue that eventually bled to death as it was being eaten. Poor thing couldn’t dive to escape because the killers were also taking turns crisscrossing beneath it and attacking from below. I imagine Craig read the same article (or perhaps it was part of a Nat Geo TV special—been so long I can’t remember) and used it as inspiration for the anecdote. Anyway, it sure made me feel sorry for Ring. Helped me empathize with his character.
Revealing the mindset of a genuine alien is one of the hardest tasks to pull off in science fiction. For too long aliens were just half-breed sidekicks (copied from Western pulps) who happened to look like lobsters, or whatever. Then along came Stanley G. Weinbaum in 1934 with his marvellously incomprehensible character Tweel in the story “A Martian Odyssey.” What Craig does is something similar as the whales and the humans struggle to understand each other. We find out what kind of mental images and symbols make sense to whales, learn something of their oral traditions, and discover the meaning of their songs, their complexity and subtlety, as if we are in the process of comprehending an advanced civilization previously unknown to us. All this presented in a matter-of-fact way that is easy to take for granted. Consequently, bit by bit, chapter by chapter, we are led on a path of reader’s acceptance enabling us to take in each new revelation without saying “hey, wait a minute, that’s impossible!”
Of course, detailed interspecies interaction beyond swimming together and making noises at each other probably falls into the realm of anthropomorphising, but this is a very human tendency that Craig takes full advantage of. If you buy the basic premise of the whales being highly intelligent, Craig guides you by the hand to believe in the increasing sophistication of the interactions and their ultimate implications without a qualm of doubt. Quite a trick. Quite a skill.
But, if at some point you put the book down and say “Nah, I don’t buy it,” then you shouldn’t be reading science fiction eco-adventure catastrophe novels in the first place. You’d be better off reading a Tom Clancy novel. That’s more “real,” supposedly. But for them as likes their imagination stretched, the interaction between whales and humans is one of the highlights and delights of this book.
There are at least 15 principle characters to keep track of. They include the Marketing Director of a cruise ship line, the owner of a steel-hulled sloop, a Bible-reading, play-it-by-the-book (in more ways than one) nuclear submarine commander, assorted scientists and TV news reporters, plus others. Sounds like too many? Too difficult to keep separated in your mind? Too confusing?
Besides, Craig employs a secret weapon. Every scene is extremely short and absolutely no longer than it needs to be. Thus, even a brief bout of reading cycles you through every character and keeps them in the forefront of your mind’s eye. I’d say it’s impossible to forget any of them. Further, the short scenes make for a fast-paced read. Difficult to put down. Quite astonishing when you consider Fragment is basically about a biggish iceberg and a biggish whale sharing an ocean with a bunch of humans who have very little idea how to cope with either. Most people might think the premise sounds dull and preachy and would probably want to give it a pass. Too bad if they do because they’d be missing out on a fun read. Fragment is as exciting to read as any action-adventure novel, more than most I’d say.
Craig constantly makes use of original little touches that add to the ambience of the book. For instance, the three scientists marooned in the snow after the destruction of their base with virtually no supplies other than what they had on them spot a surveillance drone launched from the still-distant nuclear submarine. How to attract the attention of the operator? One quick-thinking scientist pulls a CD out of his laptop (he fled with it in order to preserve his research) and, using the shiny side, flashes reflected sunlight toward the drone hoping his signal will be noticed. It is. That’s the kind of nifty, non-cliché detail I like to see. So much better than the expected “I’ll just light this flare” approach.
Another source of intriguing detail is the research Craig has put into the novel. The info is provided within the fabric of the plot for the most part, with few info dumps but even those are fascinating and do not disrupt the pacing at all. I had no idea wave height is determined by velocity, duration, and fetch, and such are conditions in the Drake Passage that the combination of all three produces an average of one rogue wave per hour! I am never, ever going sailing in the Drake Passage. Not in a sloop. Not even in a cruise ship. This be one piece of useful knowledge, I tell you.
Actually, the significance of the research manifest in the writing is that the reader’s complacency is constantly being shattered. I’ve read many books about naval history over my lifetime yet there are many important and relevant details about the reality of the ocean environment mentioned in Fragment that I never came across before. Too much research can kill a book if the reader gains the impression he is merely reading the author’s notes rather than a work of fiction. But here the occasional tidbits of new and amazing information add additional wow factor to the excitement of the read. Craig has a very nice sense of judgement of what to include and, I suspect, what to leave out. Beginning writers would do well to imitate his technique.
The pace quickens toward the end, building to a climax of biblical proportions, which also happens to resolve the individual conundrums of most of the characters one way or another. If you’ve gotten this far accepting Craig’s treatment of the premise every step of the way then the resolution in both its apocalyptic and subtle aspects will be perfectly acceptable and satisfying. At least as a work of fiction. You’ll probably say, “Oh, sure. Why not?” It ties up everything neatly in terms of character loose ends, though rather messily in terms of the world’s fate.
But what is the significance for the real world? Here you’d have to cast aside the science fiction/fantasy element of human-intelligent whales (which adds considerably to the entertainment value of the novel) and just look at the ecological implications of a massive break-up of the Antarctic Ice Shield beyond anything that has happened to date. Makes for a grim warning. Definitely something to think about.
On the other hand, getting down to the nitty gritty of the real world, should Fragment be taken seriously by anybody? Isn’t it just an eco-adventure work of fiction? Merely a light-hearted if sensationally alarmist bit of fluff designed to amuse? Something to read while lying on a blanket at the beach?
I consider it significant and noteworthy that less than two weeks ago the Brazilian Association for the Study of Literature and Environment invited Craig Russell to give a talk on Fragment as a “Climate Crisis” novel at their upcoming convention in Curitiba, Brazil. Rather a feather in his cap I should think. Also, I’m blown away that such an organization exists. There’s hope for our species yet, methinks.
— R. Graeme Cameron
Mud City Press, September 4, 2017
Craig Russell's Fragment succeeds on multiple fronts. On one level, it's a fascinating work of idea-fiction that tells a tale of first contact between humans and whales. It also spins an absorbing thriller yarn in which a motley group of humans and a lone, heroic whale join forces to face an unprecedented threat. On a third level, the book offers important insights into the gravest ecological reality of our time, climate change, without ever coming across as didactic or preachy. None of this is to say that Fragment is faultless, however; on the contrary, it is unfortunately hindered by a significant implausibility. But if you can suspend your disbelief for the sake of a good read, this flaw should put only a slight damper on your enjoyment of the book.
The story unfolds in what feels like the present (though the exact period isn't specified), and is told in the present tense, a technique used quite effectively to heighten the suspense. Scientists at Scott Base, New Zealand's permanent Antarctic research facility located near the Ross Ice Shelf, have concluded that four huge glaciers are about to make major advances. Polar climatologist Kate Sexsmith appears on network news to warn of the threat this portends. She begins describing how one of the glaciers is about to plow right into the Ice Shelf, but before she can elaborate any further, the interview is cut short. The climatologist is frantically rushed out of the room by a colleague as the rumble of avalanching snow erupts all around her, and then a brief moment later, the TV camera stops transmitting.
The shifting glaciers have broken a colossal chunk off the Ice Shelf and thrust it into the Southern Ocean. This "fragment," as it comes to be known, is 200 miles long by 100 wide, weighs half a trillion tons and threatens to kill countless unsuspecting sea creatures in its path. The destructive force that it attains as it moves north and gets swept up in the world's largest ocean current also makes it a dire threat to coastal population centers everywhere along its trajectory.
Russell skillfully interweaves several concurrent plot strands. In one of them, the three researchers from Scott Base travel to nearby McMurdo Air Force Base, only to find it leveled and all its 2,000 inhabitants dead. Shortly thereafter, the scientists are picked up by the USN SSBN Lincoln, a U.S. nuclear missile sub diverted to McMurdo to rescue survivors. Meanwhile, back at the New York headquarters of Innovation-TV, executives strategize their follow-up to the aborted interview with Dr. Sexsmith. They arrange for a reporter to board a cruise ship that's been rerouted to intercept the Fragment. There are also plot strands involving Good Samaritans Blair Cockburn, a sailor who rushes to the cruise ship's aid when it comes to grief, and Ring, a blue whale who sets out to warn his brethren about the Fragment. In the last major plot line, the U.S. president and his advisors debate what do about Ring, whom they come to view as a counterintelligence liability due to his ability to detect the locations of American military subs through sonar, together with his capacity to communicate with humans.
Ring's first clue to the Fragment's existence comes when he begins having trouble hearing other blues' songs. The notes aren't coming through as clearly as usual, and Ring deduces that this must be because some large undersea mass is impeding sound waves. Upon further investigation, he encounters the Fragment–and immediately senses the danger it poses. He starts composing a song to alert other blues and then sings it at regular intervals while swimming alongside the Fragment. This courageous act saves the lives of many blues, but is sadly incapable of helping the scores of other animals that can't understand blue.
Though they don't comprehend its meaning at first, two humans also take notice of Ring's warning. Renowned marine biologist Graham Palmer, who was among the three scientists to board the Lincoln at McMurdo, first hears the song when the sub's sonar chief, a huge fan of Palmer's work, presents him with a recording of it. The two men are transfixed, for this whale song is unlike any other they've heard, and together they set about trying to translate it. After much persistence and the help of other scientists and technicians, they succeed in decoding it, then proceed to compose a response. This latter effort is rather crude, given their rudimentary grasp of blue, but Ring gets the gist nonetheless.
Soon Ring and the scientists strike up a voluminous conversation. The humans become fluent enough in blue to give Ring lessons in history, mathematics and other subjects. They're aided in their efforts by the fact that blues, like humans, use abstractions and metaphors. As a result, the scientists are able to convey ideas through image transformations. For example, they illustrate the notion of peace by showing the calming of a violent storm, and the meanings of words like "harden" and "soften" by describing a jellyfish turning into a crab, and vice versa. As electrified as the researchers are at making contact with another sentient being, their student is equally thrilled. Clearly a cut or two above most other blues in cunning and intellectual curiosity, Ring immensely enjoys the challenge of learning about humans.
Fragment's most obvious theme is the alarming rate at which climate change is accelerating. While we have yet to see, in the real world, anything on the order of a country-sized piece of ice breaking away from an icecap and raining annihilation on human and sea animal populations alike, the impacts that we are seeing consistently exceed even worst-case expectations. Thus, the scenario depicted in Russell's book is entirely believable.
Another of Fragment's themes is the faulty reasoning that climate change deniers use to stoke public doubt over the issue. We watch a conservative pundit come onto national TV and argue, based on cherry-picked photos of a few isolated glaciers that have crept out to sea, that glaciers in general haven't been receding. When the news anchor, who is no slouch at detecting bad logic, calls him out on this, the man clumsily resorts to another tactic: impassioned hand waving about how America "will not have carbon emission limits forced on it by foreign socialists. America will remain free."
Russell's writing is Crichtonesque in the way it draws on science from a range of fields to speculate capitvatingly on the future. In describing the terrain and inner workings of the Fragment, Russell builds on our existing knowledge of real-world glaciers and ice sheets. In particular, he shows how the complex moulin systems that undermine glaciers' stability–by allowing meltwater to carve out their insides like so much swiss cheese–could apply on a titanic scale, turning a drifting ice sheet into a destructive force such as the world has never seen. The author also presents lots of interesting information about blue whale anatomy, underwater sound propagation, the physics of wave formation and various other topics.
As much of a knack as Russell has for rousing storytelling, he is equally adept at character development, and in Fragment he wisely focuses on a well-chosen handful of players. For me, the most well-realized characters are Ring, the brilliant whale expert and the valiant veteran sailor who carries out perhaps the most heroic act of anyone. I was especially impressed by how emotionally involved I became in Ring's story despite his belonging to a different species.
I stated earlier that Fragment suffers from an implausibility. Fortunately, it doesn't come into play (at least, for me) until the novel's denouement. I won't spoil the ending, so suffice it to say that I just had a hard time buying how quickly humans and whales go from first contact to interspecies collaboration and comradeship. (It's to Russell's great credit that he sold me on the premise that such a progression could occur at all.) In addition, I felt discomfort at something the scientists tell Ring in their efforts to persuade him to keep talking to them. They assure him that if, one day, humans and whales at large are able to communicate with one another, humans' mass slaughter of whales will stop. To me this is a case of making a promise one can't possibly keep–how can these individuals feel confident speaking for all members of their kind? But the issues just touched on are the only wrong notes I detected in the entire novel; everything else hits the mark squarely.
EcoLit Books, August 17, 2017
You may have read that in mid-July a massive iceberg broke off from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. Measuring about 2,000 square miles—nearly the size of Delaware—it is one of the largest icebergs ever to calve from the ice shelves ringing the continent. Scientists expect that it will eventually fracture, with some pieces remaining in the Weddell Sea and others moving into the Atlantic Ocean. They don’t expect the pieces will pose any danger nor do they anticipate sea level rise should they melt. But what if, rather than an iceberg splintering off an ice shelf, the continent’s largest ice shelf, itself, a land mass the size of France, were thrust into the ocean? How much global devastation might result from an event of that magnitude?
For the answer, look to Craig Russell’s fast-paced eco-thriller, Fragment.
When the novel begins, a glacial avalanche severs the Ross Ice Shelf from the continent and creates a tsunami of ice that destroys two polar research stations, Scott Base and McMurdo Station. “The wave is not a perfect line,” writes Russell. “It is the product of four, falling, runaway glaciers, thrust like goring bulls into the Ice Shelf’s back…shards of surface ice are launched ahead of the onrushing swell. Launched like harpoons, catapulted forward at the speed of sound.” Only three people survive the onslaught: a polar climatologist, an astronomer, and a marine biologist.
Fragment is their story, but not theirs alone. The novel is driven by an ensemble cast that includes sailors aboard a U.S. atomic submarine, journalists, climate-change denying politicians, a self-promoting marketing director of a major cruise line, a Scottish sailor literate in the wild waters of Drake Passage, and a blue whale named Ring. All (of the human characters) are trying to make sense of what the ice shelf’s surge into the Atlantic could mean for coastal countries, and some are warning of the epic environmental and human carnage to come. It will be no surprise to readers that these warnings fall on proverbial deaf ears. Says a German scientist at a hastily-called European conference, “Such examples are imaginative, but we must not inflame the passions of the public…we must take a balanced view. We cannot simply adopt an alarmist view.”
In this climate change allegory, characters are somewhat thinly drawn in background, if not environmental outlook. Readers will quickly distinguish between those who are noble—who respect earth and all her inhabitants—and those who are selfish and scornful of nature. This lack of complexity in character development combined with short chapters that jump among settings, pitch the action of the story forward at a steady, page-turning clip. Fragment is hard to put down.
Perhaps the most compelling character in the novel—and certainly the purest of heart—is the blue whale, Ring. When the scientists who survive the Antarctic tsunami develop a language that makes communication with Ring possible, what follows is inter-species cooperation unlike the world has ever seen.
Fragment leaps so seamlessly from fact to fiction that it may drive readers to their computers or smart phones to find out where exactly fact ends and fiction begins. That’s how well-researched and executed I found Craig Russell’s eco-thriller.
— Jacki Skole, EcoLit Books
NEWMYTHS.COM, JUNE 2017
Imagine introducing a new sentient race to the world. Imagine climate change alarmist stories coming true right before your eyes. Imagine how much good can be done in an emergency by a small group of like-minded people. Put all that together with interesting and relevant science, and you have Fragment. Written by Canadian author Craig Russell, the book opens with a straightforward explanation of the heat of fusion, revealing why ice is such resilient stuff even in the face of temperatures above freezing.
"Consider the nature of ice," Russell writes. "The heat of fusion is one of its mysteries." In one page, the first page, Russell captures the reader's interest and launches them into an adventure full of unexpected turns and fascinating science. Oh, and throw in a cruise ship, a nuclear sub, a small sailboat, and a lonely whale for good measure.
Fragment is a string of all-too-plausible events that were obviously well-researched. While a journalist in America interviews a scientist live in Antarctica, the Antarctic Ross Sea Ice Shelf is shoved free of the continent. In a perfect storm of conditions, a 'berg half the size of Kentucky is created. No one can predict where the behemoth will strike land, and debates begin immediately over possibilities.
Three glaciers travel on the back of the ice sheet, and as Russell illustrates, fetch (the distance available for the waves to build on open water) is infinite in the Drake Passage, causing the ice shelf to gain momentum. Most people predictably deny there's much danger, and the POTUS puts his main man to work spinning events in a favourable light. But lives and homes are at risk, and when a mismatched team of believers try to get the word out, help comes from the most unexpected places.
The intriguing asides regarding the science at hand enhance the story and reveal just how plausible this near-future science fiction story really is, while also adding imagery to the events around them. "There are a variety of physical factors that affect the Fragment," Russell writes in one interposition. "The first is gravity. Because of its size it's not really a flat object at all. It actually curves across the surface of the earth, like the last piece of skin to be peeled off an orange."
Russell leads us on a thoughtful and daring undertaking that captures global issues and weaves them into a personable story of real humans doing the best they can with what they have... and surprising themselves in the process. This novel also celebrates the spirit of chasing an idea against all rules and skepticism standing in the way, and how that can often lead to the biggest discoveries of all.
Released on October 1, 2016, Fragment follows Russell's Black Bottle Man, which won the 2011 American Moonbeam Award gold medal for Young Adult Fantasy and was a finalist for the Canadian Prix Aurora Awards and two Manitoba book awards.
— Adria Laycraft, NewMyths.com
Analog science fiction and fact magazine, February 26, 2017
For action/adventure, there’s nothing like a disaster — the bigger the better. And Fragment tells of a fairly major one that unreels with agonizing slowness in the Antarctic.
In the near future, Kate Sexsmith is a Canadian climatologist studying the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica. While she’s giving a live television interview, a catastrophic series of avalanches begins — when all is said and done, a huge fragment of the Ross Ice Shelf breaks free and starts drifting toward South America.
Kate and two fellow scientists survive the catastrophe, but are marooned in the wreckage of their base. They’re rescued by a U. S. nuclear submarine, but the captain enforces radio silence so the scientists are unable to warn the rest of the world of the danger that’s coming.
Meanwhile, the reporter who was interviewing Kate at the time of the disaster sets forth with a colleague to find out what’s going on. First, they have to cross the storm-torn Drake Passage, one of the most dangerous parts of the ocean even under favorable conditions.
In Washington, the U.S. President gets advance word of the ice fragment nearing down on the civilized world, threatening millions. Trouble is, there’s an election coming up, and a disaster in South America could lead to a disaster in the president’s poll numbers. At the same time, the president’s advisors, worried about military implications, are urging him to take action.
And a brave blue whale called Ring tries to warn his fellow whales about the danger of the fragment . . . yet the ocean is huge, and one whale’s voice is comparatively small.
Craig Russell is a Canadian lawyer best known for young adult fantasy; he does a fine job of weaving together the disparate threads of Fragment. The book is a page-turner; once you start, you won’t be able to put it down until you reach the end. The parts featuring the whale Ring are compelling in their depiction of an alien mind and society. And the action is nonstop.
— Don Sakers, Analog
BRANDON SUN, JUNE 13, 2018
Craig Russell’s second novel, "Fragment," has landed him on the short list for a Manitoba Book Award.
The Brandon author describes his latest fictional work as an "ecological thriller," as the story imagines what would happen if an ice shelf the size of France were to break off into the ocean by avalanching glaciers.
"There are some scientists who work at a research station near that. Their station is destroyed and a lot of their colleagues are killed, but they survive," Russell said. "The story follows them through what happens afterwards ... It follows the fragment out into the ocean and how it then affects the world, and politics and the way in which different countries approach the disaster."
"This was a summer job, and quite a fantastic experience for a young guy from Carman, Manitoba," he said. "It made a real impression on me, the environment there. When I arrived the sun was down, of course, in spring there was night 24 hours a day and the ice on the bay was 15 feet thick."
He has kept a close eye on changes in the Arctic and the Antarctic, such as the breakup of the Larsen Ice Shelf. Back in the 1990s, Larsen A broke off, followed by Larsen B in 2002.
A large section of the Larsen C shelf broke away in July 2017, which was not long after Fragment was published.
"Fragment," published by Thistledown Press, is on the shortlist for the Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction. Russel joins three other nominees in this category: "The Bootlegger’s Confession" by Allan Levine, "The Mermaid’s Tale" by D.G. Valdron, and "Strangers — Book 1 of The Reckoner Series" by David A. Robertson.
The awards are organized by the Manitoba Writers’ Guild with the assistance of the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers. The awards ceremony will take place on Friday at the University of Manitoba.
Russell is a longtime Brandonite, and a recently retired lawyer. His first book, "Black Bottle Man" was also a finalist for two Manitoba Book Awards. In 2011, it won the American Moonbeam Award gold medal for Young Adult Fantasy.
Russell is already working on his third novel, which he said is a return to the fantasy world.
— Jillian Austin
WESTMAN JOURNAL, JUNE 12, 2018
Brandon writer Craig Russell’s fictional account on what would happen should a giant shelf fall into the Atlantic ocean from the Antarctic ice sheet has received world-wide attention since its publication one and a half years ago.
Besides being named to Yale University’s climate-fiction reading list, Fragment (Thistledown Press, 2016) has been notated, quoted and reviewed by publications throughout North America, Europe and Israel.
Back in his home province, Russell’s book is being celebrated with a nomination for the Manitoba Book Awards’ Michael Van Rooy Award for genre fiction. The awards ceremony takes place Friday at the University of Manitoba’s Robert B. Schultz Theatre.
“I was hopeful it would get attention,” Russell told the Westman Journal during a conversation last week. “Thistledown Press was very encouraged about the book. They tend to publish more literary fiction and this is more a cross between literary and action-thriller, so it’s really nice they had confidence in it.”
Fragment is Russell’s second novel following Black Bottle Man, which was published by Great Plains Teen Fiction in 2010. The novel outlines the story of various characters after an immense shelf of ice breaks away from the Antarctic ice sheet and begins moving in the Atlantic Ocean towards South America. A submarine captain steers his vessel towards the oncoming ecological disaster to rescue the surviving inhabitants of a scientific research station.
Meanwhile, political operatives in Washington, D.C. attempt to spin the situation in their favor, and two journalists pursue what’s really happening by sailing towards the ice shelf. Elsewhere, scientists find a way to communicate with a Blue Whale as it attempts to save its species from the dangerous situation.
“I was trying to make it as realistic as I could as far as the science of how the physics of ice works, but writers have to take some license with some of the more fantastical events,” said Russell, who as a university student worked with the Canadian Department of National Defense at a weather station 500 miles from the North Pole. While there, he obtained first-hand knowledge about polar climate, landscape and seasonal changes.
The Blue Whale in Fragment became an instrumental character in the novel. This was not expected when Russell began writing the book.
“A marine biologist, through technology, learns to speak with whales. This came as a surprise to me because it was originally only going to appear for about half a page where the whale encountered the catastrophe and died. Instead, he became a main character,” the retired lawyer said.
“I have always been interested in communication as a theme in my writing. My first book (Black Bottle Man) is a young-adult fantasy where I used a communication method at the time of hoboes called ‘hobo signs.’ In the Dirty Thirties, if they encountered someone nice to you on a farm, they would carve a symbol on a post to show they would feed them, give them a bed for the night or if the farmer was unfriendly and should be avoided. I transformed the symbols in a sort of magical way to change the world itself for the main character.”
Black Bottle Man was shortlisted for a Canadian Aurora Award in 2011. Russell moved on to Fragment when climate change began receiving heavy coverage in the media.
“Unfortunately at the time, the Prime Minister was denying climate change and that tweaked me a little bit to work on the novel,” he said.
Russell is currently recovering from a recent health issue, so writing is less of a priority for him at the moment. He will have a short story published in an anthology this autumn and his third book is partially completed.
Although originally from the Carman, Man. area, Russell has been a resident of Brandon for almost three decades.
— Chris L. Istace
The Grumpy Book Reviewer, July 2018
At the request of the author, Craig Russell, I read Fragment, a novel of the new climate-fiction genre, often referred to as “cli-fi”. Highlighted by Yale University’s Climate Connections as important books on this topic, Fragment is now on the short list for the Michael Van Rooy Award. I thoroughly enjoyed this intriguing story.
Pushed into the ocean by a shockwave in the Antarctic, a massive sheet of ice, a fragment the size of Kentucky, is carried northward by ocean currents. All marine life in its path is killed. A polar research facility and an American military base are destroyed. Only three people survive: scientists from the research facility.
The lead advisor to the U.S. President spins the breaking story as much ado about nothing, buries the information of the destruction of our Antarctic military base, and tries to capture the “foreign” (New Zealand) scientists before they can spread the truth. Meanwhile, the Fragment travels into the Pacific Ocean and on into the Caribbean, where it shears off the top of a volcano, causing floods and fires. Meanwhile, a Blue Whale helps the survivors and fights for survival, and two journalists brave the storms of the Drake Passage to find the truth.
The Fragment provides much food for thought as we humans continue to abuse our planet and its animals. It should give pause to those who continue to ignore the science of climate change and its causes.
Fragment is exceptionally well-written, and is a valuable book that I encourage everyone to read. I expect it to win many awards.
What Makes This Book Reviewer Grumpy?
Only one thing: Occasional single-sentence paragraphs. This is a big no-no, except in dialogue.
— The Grumpy Book Reviewer