There’s no greater expert on political risk than Ian Bremmer: he helped invent the concept. In our interview with him, he argues that we are facing a geopolitical recession — one with no clear end in sight. Read it here.
Vasco Nunez de Balboa, Henry Hudson, Christopher Columbus, Ferdinand Magellan, even Lewis and Clark — these are usually the sort of names that pop into mind when we think of the great Western explorers who pushed the boundaries of terra incognita. These were the rugged men who risked life and limb to take advantage of new innovations in navigation and sailing methods to search for the elusive Northwest passage, the shortcut to the Pacific, and, by one way or another, fame and riches. But then there’s the next generation of frontiersmen who, even as the 20th century came rolling along, went out of their way to find the last uncharted spots on the globe. And they wouldn’t be using caravels or carracks either. By the time American explorer Richard Byrd made his first flight over the South Pole on this day in history, 1929, it was the aviator’s turn to pick up where the great figures of the age of exploration had left off.
A career navy man and already a famous face in America for his non-stop flight across the Atlantic in 1927, Byrd set out for Antarctica in the fall of 1928 with a small team that, resource-wise, brought the best chances yet for serious inroads to be made in the exploration of the largely mysterious continent. It took a few close calls crossing over high-altitude mountain passes (as in, airplane technology being what it was in the 20s, there was a strong chance Byrd’s plane would not be able to fly above some of Antarctica’s most impressive mountains), but eventually the team made it to the South Pole, where they dropped an American flag. The entire flight there and back took 18 hours and 41 minutes — it’s a pretty good deal to make well-deserved history in less than a day.
Such a good deal, in fact, that we might as well expect there to be a blockbuster film capturing Byrd’s epic exploits at least sometime soon. But if you can’t wait for some thrilling Antarctic historical drama to come to the silver screen, we recommend tiding yourself over with John Carpenter’s The Thing. A 1982 cult classic which only made a small profit over its $15 million budget (it’s hard to blame Carpenter and his team for the lackluster initial success, though — E.T. the ExtraTerrestrial was still dominating the box office by the time this movie came out, and even if audiences were ready for yet another well done sci-fi movie they were also probably distracted with Blade Runner, which was released on the same day as The Thing). Thankfully, in spite of the movie’s poor first impression, The Thing has since become recognized as one of the best horror movies of all time.
The over the top make-up work is spot on, Kurt Russel is in his moderately campy 80’s element, and, well, the movie hits all the right notes when it comes to thrills and tension in spite of the movie critics in 1982 who panned the plot for relying on overly graphic visual effects. It’s not worth trying to describe the plot in detail beyond the fact that the monstrous, shapeshifting “Thing” that showdowns with a nearly helpless team of researchers stuck in the middle of Antarctica is truly the stuff of nightmares. If you like horror or just want to check out a classic, just go ahead and right the wrong of this movie’s originally disappointing release; you won’t be disappointed.
Still, it’s understandable if an action-pakced mixture of Kurt Russell, zealous gore effects, and a terrifying alien monster does not fully satisfy a taste for this week’s Arctic theme, or at least meet the needs of someone interested in a more deeply psychological take on the cold, polar ends of the earth and the effect that their almost supernatural climates can have on the small, vulnerable humans who try to explore their vast interiors. Beyond Sleep, a post-war novel by Dutch author Willem Frederik Hermans, sets itself against one of the more disorientating aspects of life spent on the north-south extremes of planet earth: weeks upon weeks of unending sunlight and darkness.
Beyond Sleep takes a look at what happens when a young Geology student from Amsterdam is exposed to the former — bright nights in the far north of Norway stripped of their darkness and, by extension, restful nights for the anxious protagonist, Issendorf. For Issendorf, the trip to Norway means a desperate quest to find scientific evidence of meteor craters to validate the shaky theories of his professor and his own desires for achievement. As the outcome of young Issendorf’s missions looks increasingly gloomy, his appetite for at least some level of primitive, introspective triumph takes a fascinatingly central role in the book. Just as well, the grippingly fierce and unspoiled setting of Norway’s most unforgiving northern boundaries is reason enough to check out Issendorf’s struggle to discover any real reward to his life. If you’re starting to feel your own inner, brooding geologist come alive after reading this short review, this week would be a good a time as any to give one of the most applauded works in Dutch literature a look.