Rudy Wiebe makes the physical North present as few writers can. We see the line of light on the spring horizon, taste the lichens that feed the caribou and sometimes the humans, feel the rough granite outcroppings, stand on the edge of the great northern rivers. The cold cuts to the bone. In A Discovery of Strangers (Knopf Canada), the North is a black and white photograph. Lines are clearly visible, narrative trails easily followed, the drama stark. Danger is omnipresent. Here animals and people drown, freeze, starve. Journals, maps, drawings, buildings—all are carried away by wind, ice and water. Technological, European man is alienated from his surroundings and the animal and human company he keeps; his moral codes are revealed as the attributes of social class and drop off like frozen limbs when starvation looms. The tragedy is not the cannibalism to which the explorers are reduced, but the ghastly pretensions of European culture that lead to their destruction. Not surprisingly, Wiebe is more comfortable with his Indian characters than he is with the "white mud" people. But Wiebe's highly evident disapproval of Hood's band of heavily provisioned men in search of the sea of everlasting ice prevents him from getting inside their heads. He describes their motivations but is unable to reveal them as people; instead he concentrates his imaginative energy on the interior life of the Native people. So, in the end, the book becomes a kind of lecture rather than a novel. We cannot believe Wiebe's Indians, because they seem to be the creations of a white imagination which one suspects has more in common with the nineteenth-century adventurers than it does with the victims of white arrogance. We want to know—we need to know—about the wellsprings of white adventurism, the sources of the extraordinary courage Hood and the others show, as well as their manifest delusion. Wiebe's disapproval squelches any chance of that, and we are left with impressions of several splendid but archetypal aboriginal characters and a hazy notion of the white mudders who carried the British sensibility into the north. Aboriginal tales too frequently come across as New Age fuzz unless they are told by aboriginal people. Stripped of these tales A Discovery of Strangers is a bare bone of a book which raises more questions than it answers about the motivations and passions of the inspired English fools who walked their way into a hell of ice, starvation and degradation.