The Island of Secrets reads like a twenty-first-century explorer's diary, rich with multimedia content documenting an expedition deep into New Britain's jungles. Inline links pop open locations on maps, historical factoids, or images from Power's trip. The intimate photos provide a glimpse into the day-to-day life of the haphazard expedition, including shots of an impromptu shoddily-made raft, the science team's dilapidated jungle base camp, and the odd detail like a local's "Calvin Klain" underwear.
While the quality of the photographs are nothing like those found in glossy magazines, they serve as evidence of the journalistic process, and of the realities of Power's research in New Britain. Even better than the photographs, though, are the small video clips that are peppered throughout the text. One clip records a slapdash attempt to sew shut a careless machete wound, while another shows the slow, laborious process of hacking through the dense Tanglefoot fern underbrush. These short clips are the antithesis of slick BBC nature documentaries, and as a result they succeed in providing gritty, blurry proof of the day-to-day struggle of science in far-away places.
Along with the text, The Atavist app also includes a superbly produced audiobook version, ready by Power himself. You can also listen to snippets of sounds from the jungle including the whirring of cicadas or samples of the local language, Tok Pisin. Some may find these audio-visual elements distracting or unnecessary (notably the looped chirping crickets that function as a soundtrack), more often than not they work in concert to create one of the richest media experiences available on an iPad or iPhone.
None of this would work, however, if it weren't for Power's talent in telling the story of John Lane's obsession with finding the tree kangaroo. By building off the foundation of a good story, The Atavist’s adaptation of The Island of Secrets creates a hybrid of narrative nonfiction that succeeds in bringing the journalistic and scientific process to life.
Oliver Hulland is the editor of Cool Tools, a site dedicated to finding tools that really work. When not reviewing tools, he can be found foraging for mushrooms, exploring caves, and applying to medical school.