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Bleak tale from a novelist worth watching; The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica, by John Calvin Batchelor. New York: The Dial Press. 401 pp. $16.95.

By Bruce Allen / September 14, 1983

Icelandic saga and Teutonic legend are the influences that shaped this most curious futuristic first novel. Writer and critic John Calvin Batchelor has concocted a tale of exile and conflict centering on ''the exodus of several hundred thousand wretches into the Antarctic over the decade of epic ruin that closed the twentieth century.''

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Its hero, Grim Fiddle, is the son of an American draft dodger and a Swedish teen-age girl possessed of assorted magical powers. His life assumes the shape of an impassioned, doomed quest for goodness; the murderous drift of the present century, in concert with his own aggressive and criminal impulses, bring Grim to a chagrined conclusion that it is not possible for man to be truly good.

Like much current fiction in tone, this novel displays a carefully calibrated progression into nihilism and despair. It is weakened by its frequent abstractedness and talkiness, and by a kind of Vonnegutian-Brautiganian cuteness that bestows on Batchelor's characters annoyingly clever names (Cleopatra Furore , Peregrine Ide, Germanicus Frazer, and many others) and irrelevantly zany personal traits. It's an ambitious, perverse, vast wreck of a book - frustrating yet emblematic of a young writer worth watching.