Monday, July 07, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #187: Crater XV by Kevin Cannon

One of the characteristics of a great storyteller is the ability to bend the world to his will, to spin out unlikely and insane ideas by making them not just plausible but true for the length of the story. Kevin Cannon's tales of Army Shanks -- that great adventurer of the Canadian Arctic, former Navy man, often slandered as a pirate -- show that Cannon is clearly a great storyteller.

Because, otherwise, who would believe the story of the Canadian Arctic Space Agency and their crash program to send a crew to the moon to foil a plot by rogue Siberians to harness a newly-discovered super-science power source there?

Army Shanks is back in Crater XV, the sequel to Far Arden. He's embittered and damaged by the events of the first book -- which was an adventurous romp with a seriously somber undertone that came out very strongly at the end -- and ready to give up on his life of Canadian Arctic adventuring. He's even bought his ticket to Antarctica, which the proverbial signal for retirement for men in his line of work. (As a sidebar -- one of the most amazing things about Army Shank's world is that it's set on a world that, for all intents and purposes, consists of nothing but polar regions. Nothing tropical or even slightly temperate has the slightest role at all. Again, it speaks to Cannon's storytelling skill: he's setting up a world to tell the stories he wants to tell, and if they shouldn't make sense, he'll force them to be believable for the length of his books.)

But Shanks is not at the core of Crater XV as much as he was in Far Arden; he's still an adventurer, and still drives large parts of the plot, but this time out, we have a larger story of international intrigue, triggered by the arrival of the Siberian ship Lunayev (a oil tanker that claims to be acting as a launch platform for a moon shot) at the same time a meeting of the ambassadors of the High Arctic League (HAL) is gathering in Maxwell Bay, the closest thing to a city that exists in Shank's high arctic.

There's a teenage girl whose fondest wish is to go to the Jovian moon Europa, a secret Canadian space program, the miracle fuel Lutonium, a cache of explosives that must inevitably be used, hairs-breadth escapes, stern chases by sea, sword fights, hidden astronaut training centers, massive American investments, the crafty Siberian captain, his minions and spies, and his wife -- who just may be Pravda, Army's childhood love from his days in the orphanage. Crater XV is even more full of incident and adventure than Far Arden was, ranging from Shanks to the girl Wendy Byrd to the secret base in the titular crater to the HAL ambassadors and their schemes, and back again, over and over again as the story unfurls. Cannon also loves odd sound effects -- page 75 alone has Flying Windmill Attack, Duck!, Swing!!, Miss!!, Tock Tock, and Run Away!! -- which add to the air of headlong, goofy adventure and helps to cut the seriousness of some of the darker events.

Cannon is also an assured and supple cartoonist, drawing energetic, thrilling pages -- the small size of Crater XV helps to add to the energy, cramming plenty of action on each page and keeping them turning quickly. This is high adventure done exceptionally well, and with a dark undertone to keep it from getting too silly or untethered from reality -- it's as good as adventure comics gets.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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