According to one interview, when Kim Stanley Robinson requested a National Science Foundation grant for six weeks in the Antarctic Artists & Writers' Program, he just wanted to "get to go" to the most inaccessible continent, considering the trip applicable research for his award-winning Mars trilogy. But the NSF rejected his proposal and insisted he actually write about Antarctica. So here's his aptly named new novel, Antarctica, which clearly illustrates both Robinson's enthusiasm for the trip and his lack of initial interest in a fictional story about it. In an obvious expositional trick, his plot follows a congressional staffer wending his way through the continent's sparse but complex political maze of scientists, tourists, mundane staffers, and multinational prospectors. A group of radical "ecoteurs" wants to drive the tiny, fractious crowd off the last untrammeled wilderness before it gets trammeled, in a vaguely executed potboiler-thriller plot that amounts to less than a fifth of the book's length. Most of the remainder consists of ecological didacticism, environmental descriptions, and a rundown of Antarctica's brief history, largely consisting of brave-but-ill-fated Victorian expeditions. A wide variety of conveniently over-informed point-of-view characters spout unrelieved history and politics like faucets when they aren't musing over the pasts that brought them to such a desolate area, admiring the views with rapturous scientific detail or plumbing the thesaurus for new synonyms for "cold." To his credit, Robinson writes so authoritatively, so lightly, and with such sincere excitement that he makes this datamill informative, interesting, and easier to read than the putative textbook it resembles. But he doesn't really make it into a novel.