Saturday, August 23, 2014

Deep Black Sea review

    One of the most best ways to do a horror story, at least in Doctor Who, is the "base under siege." Basically, there's a bunch of likable protagonists who are trapped in an enclosed place and find themselves under attack by whatever monster the storyline is based on. It can be in space like Alien or a cabin in the woods like, well, The Cabin in the Woods.

    Deep Black Sea is a "base under siege" story, though the simplicity of the narrative should not be confused for lazy storytelling. David M. Salkin weaves a good story which distinguishes itself from its counterparts through fun characters and unconventional monsters.

    The premise of Deep Black Sea is sadly unbelievable: a pro-science U.S. President takes away money from the military for a large-scale research project. I mean, zombies I can buy but this is ridiculous.


    Sort of.

    Anyway, a team of competent deep-sea researchers are assembled and sent down four-miles underneath the water where they're expected to spend the next year. When they're down there, they find something unpleasant.

    Things go from there.

    I like this novel because it's a story which simultaneously is more plausible than most science-fiction horror, taking time to give reasonable-sounding explanations for the events within, but doesn't take itself too seriously. Deep Black Sea keeps a balance between humor and horror, and drama. The heart of any story is its characters but the ocean researchers here are all a fun bunch of guys and girls, reminding me a good deal of the characters from Alien.

    I think part of what I liked about the protagonists is they reminded me very much of many RL oceanographers I've met. They grouse about their jobs, take their circumstances less than seriously (until it becomes dangerous), talk about sex, and constantly rib each other. People used to more Star Trek-like sanitized depictions of scientists will be in for a rude surprise dealing with this crew.

    I like how David M. Salkin manages to capture the mind-numbing tedium of actual research. Having worked with many of RL researchers, I can say with some authority they come up with very inventive ways of distracting themselves from how boring a lot of it can be.

    All of the characters love their area of special concern but there's really no way to dress-up the fact real-life science mostly consists of, "put sample under glass, watch it for twelve months." There's no romances per se in this novel but in a mixed group, it's unsurprising quite a few debate who they'll be sleeping with to pass the next year.

    I enjoyed that.

    I won't spoil the "monster" of the book but while I sincerely doubt anything like it exists in reality, the fact it seems like it could exist makes the book work much better than it might have otherwise. The author has done his research and the techno-babble seems less forced than in other science-fiction I've read. I don't quite buy the villain of the story's motivations but that' a small complaint in an otherwise entertaining story.

    In conclusion, I think Deep Black Sea is an excellent example of genre fiction. As much as I love vampires, zombies, and werewolves--it's nice to take a break from them for something different. I don't think there's much room for a sequel but if the author chooses to do one, I'd love to see both characters from the original novel as well as the creatures within. Which is about as good a recommendation as I can give.


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