I thought Explorers of the New Century was just going to be a satire on the subject of scientific expeditions. You know, the styles and levels of organization, the clash of personalities, the competitive machismo and posturing (or wholesome, manly attitudes, depending on your point of view), the arbitrary goal, with the elusive Agreed Furthest Point (from civilization) and the unspecified date and location underscoring the abstract nature of the story.
All that is there… except the goal… the goal really took me by surprise once I found out what it was. But then, everything that happened next, terrible and astonishing as it was, made sense in context.
I think I would still have enjoyed Explorers of the New Century if had only been the book I was expecting. The expedition members are well differentiated and their interactions and contributions to their expeditions would still have made it an interesting and funny short read. The landscape is chilling in its otherworldly bleakness but the stark contrast between the routes taken by the competing expeditions heightens the difference between their methods, successes and failures.