A direct sequel to the Infestation novella published in 2017, Operation: Antarctica sees the survivors of Captain John Bank’s squad reinforced by some additional troopers, and then ordered to make their way back to the Antarctic for a second time. But this time, instead of being sent to investigate a Russian ship illegally drilling off the coast of Canada and inadvertently unleashing a horde of gigantic, flesh-eating Isopods in the process, the squad is directed to make landfall in Queen Maude Land. Their destination is the ruins of a Nazi scientific outpost, supposedly abandoned in the middle of the Second World War in unknown circumstances, and rumoured to have been the base for an actual Nazi flying saucer – a genuine UFO. It’s probably a load of rubbish, but something showed up on an infrared scan of the area by a satellite passing overhead, and so the squad are sent to go in and take a look. Unfortunately for them (and as the excellent cover art shows) the outpost is far from abandoned, and its former occupants would very much like their assistance in working on getting the flying saucer operational – whether they want to or not.
I literally downloaded Operation: Antarctica to my Kindle as soon as I had finished the previous novella in the series, Infestation, as I’d been hooked by the characters, the fast pace of the action, and Mr Meikle’s high-quality writing style. I’m happy to report that I found all three of those elements to also be present in this novella, and also that, as with all good sequels, Operation: Antarctica had taken the best parts of its predecessor and expanded upon them in order to create an even better product. However, the novella also acts to highlight one of qualities that I admire so much about Mr Meikle – his ability, as I’ve mentioned before in previous reviews, to effortlessly pivot from one style of writing to another and move from genre to genre. So while Operation Antarctica has inherited the same cast of characters, the style of the sequel has moved from a stream-lined, gun-blazing ‘creature feature’ to something far more complex and often darker in tone, while still retaining some brilliantly plotted action sequences. While the back-cover blurb and cover art openly point to the existence of undead Nazi soldiers – and they do indeed exist, and work as excellent secondary antagonists in the novella’s plot – Mr Meikle has composed a story that is far, far more nuanced than being a run-of-the-mill ‘special forces versus Nazi zombies’ title that is suggested.
Instead, we get a story that stretches back decades into the past, even further than the Second World War itself, to the time of the famed occultist Thomas Carnacki, a character that the author has also written about extensively. As Captain Banks and his squad brave the Antarctic conditions to investigate the research outpost, they come across paperwork that hints at the occult background to the Nazi research into a flying saucer, and that its form of propulsion was in no way man-made. While I was initially surprised by the inclusion of the subplot involving Carnacki, Winston Churchill’s time in the Admiralty, and a haunted U-Boat, it rapidly became my favourite section of the novella. I have often enjoyed Mr Meikle’s take on William Hope Hodgson’s character, and this is by far one of his finest efforts, using Carnacki’s diary entries to paint a picture of a plot by a Winston Churchill determined to use any methods – including occultism and blood sacrifice – to try and inflict damage on the German Kriegsmarine, only for his efforts in the past to endanger the British special forces team in the present. While I have often cringed at attempts to include such a complex personality as Churchill in fiction, especially the occult and Mythos genres, the Churchill presented here seems entirely feasible, his actions realistic and motivations understandable. The author adroitly portrays the combination of arrogance, keen intelligence and ruthlessness that Churchill often exhibited in real life – albeit these characteristics being hidden or disposed of altogether by the national mythology that now surrounds him – and which would surely have led him to undertake the exact same covert plot enacted by Carnacki, at his orders, if occultism had actually been real.
The Carnacki/Churchill subplot is incredibly engaging, and by far the best part of the novella, but the rest of the title is also of a high standard. The writing and plotting are as strong and tight as his other titles, including Infestation, and I enjoyed encountering again the characters of Captain Banks and his loyal Sergeant Hynd as they try and survive yet another chaotic incursion against inhuman forces. And while the undead Nazi soldiers made for an excellent secondary antagonist, it rapidly became clear that the UFO itself was the primary antagonist, constantly haunting the thoughts and actions of Banks and his men, and trying to lure them into its interior for nefarious purposes. It practically became a character in of itself, sinister and ever-present, and I enjoyed seeing another incidence of ‘The Dance’, Mr Meikle’s unique take on how the wider Lovecraftian universe can manifest itself to unwary humans coming into contact with objects from the Mythos – in this case, the flying saucer itself.
In conclusion, Operation: Antarctica is another winning title by Mr Meikle, an excellent piece of writing that demonstrates his broad set of skills as an author, and I’m incredibly excited by his recent announcement that he has been contracted by Severed Press for a third title featuring Captain Banks and his weary band of surviving special forces. I intend to pre-order it as soon as it surfaces online.