Stephen Graham King, Chasing Cold, ISBN: 9780983953173, Hadley Rille, April 2012.
Reviewed by Claire Humphrey.
Rogan Tyso is the mailman of Frostbite: he maintains the communications arrays that serve the tiny human settlement on this chilly and inhospitable planet. Frostbite is small enough that everyone knows everyone else, and each person has a role essential to the community’s health, regardless of his or her own individual needs. Rogan copes with his restlessness by conducting an online romance with Nathe, a man many light years away. When Nathe offers him a job, Rogan jumps at the chance, even though it will mean leaving everyone he knows.
The first third of the book is taken up with Rogan’s choice to leave and the effect of that choice on his friends, lovers and community. While this portion could have been shorter, it’s deeply emotional. By the time Rogan departs Frostbite, we’ve come to know him as a sensitive and caring person, and we hope that Nathe will give him the happiness he deserves. When they finally meet, it’s believably awkward and winningly sweet.
Chasing Cold is set in a universe where the Flense, an impersonal alien force, has evicted humans from all of the most habitable planets. The Flense functions more as an evolutionary pressure than as an antagonist. Rogan’s journey takes him through several different settlements with physical characteristics that make them marginally liveable for humans, and in each one, humans have found ways to survive and thrive. This adaptability is one of the main themes of the novel. We’re never in doubt that Rogan, too, will thrive in his new home.
That lack of doubt is the main flaw in Chasing Cold. I would have appreciated higher stakes. Rogan is rarely in physical peril, and while some of his relationships are strained by his journey, he makes friends easily and only once encounters anyone who intends to harm him. The unfailing optimism of the novel makes it an easy and comfortable read, but also strains credulity. Sometimes people really do pull together under stress, but sometimes we fall apart. My own experience of small communities in harsh environments made me wonder why so many of Chasing Cold‘s human settlements seemed free of addiction and abuse, as if all the people living in them had miraculously healthy coping strategies.
That said, while some of the world-building may not satisfy, the big ideas aren’t the heart of this book. That belongs to Rogan, whose personal journey is the one made by each of us when we come of age. His triumph, connecting with Nathe and working together on technology that will help humans escape the Flense, is the triumph of love over loneliness, and it left me uplifted and smiling.