Lucas Bale

Award-Winning Speculative Fiction Author

The Walk Up Nameless Ridge, by Hugh Howey

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As a mountaineer, and an admiring follower of Howey's, I wanted to like this book, but in truth I expected to hate it. I wondered how many of the climbing tropes would be found within the story – how much criticism there would be of ego, of the oxygen bottles left on mountains across the world, of the western climber/sherpa relationship. And all of that is present. Howey has done his research, and observed keenly the ills of the modern elite climbing world. I imagine he's seen the photos of the queue to summit Everest which saddened climbers everywhere. But the book, written as it is from the perspective of a nameless man, driven by ego and self-interest, also acknowledges those quiet personalities who summit for different reasons – the actions of Ziba, told through his eyes and the nameless man's change of perspective in the final pages shows why Howey is so successful: he is an astute observer of the spectrum of human behaviour. The relationship between climbing partners is so nicely rendered. He adds the elements which take the story to its future setting – gears on the climbers' suits to assist in climbing way above what would be considered possible here on Earth, androids climbing too, nods to Earth's mountains still having a special place in some traditionalist's hearts. These tiny setting details add a richness to the story with only a few lines. The story is so beautifully crafted and wonderfully written that it's worth two readings so that those moments you missed the first time can be savoured again. Yet Howey might have one thing wrong, in my view – having spent time with elite climbers, I doubt any would leave a man possibly dying on the mountain so that they could summit instead. That part does not ring true for me. I think most elite mountaineers know it might be them next time. I watched Kenton Cool tell the story of how he spent hours trying to save a man, rather than realise a life-long dream on Everest. And watched him break down when he told me how couldn't save him. Perhaps that's Howey's point – that all human-beings are different, with different priorities, and Ziba's actions when placed it stark contrast with our nameless man's, and his later view of her which conflicts with society's view of his achievement, is the true point of the story. And I'm the one who has it wrong.

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All words copyright Lucas Bale, 2015