Permuted Press, 2014, 284 pages
It's October, and time to read a few of the horror novels that have been sitting on my shelf!
Usually I start a review with the publishers' blurb, but in this case, it's freaking huge, and a synopsis of the entire plot. So this time, I'll lead with the author's note:
I've written a dozen novels, but this is one of my personal favorites... I'm a scuba diver and love the ocean. The science about the bacteria is mostly factual. Where I took artistic license was only to scare the crud out of you. :)
Just so you know, the book cover shows a Viperfish, which is a real sea creature that lives in the very deep sea where this story takes place. It has nothing to do with the story, really, other than lending a sense of place. (And looking very cool, in my opinion.) I mention this because a few reviews thought that this was "the sea monster".... nope... just a fish. If you think THAT is scary... well.... start reading...
Set in 2020, Deep Black Sea mixes a semi-plausible premise, icky, slimy monsters, and science that it is not too egregiously offensive (the author actually did some research about undersea life, deep sea exploration, and the environment) with amateurish writing, a B-movie plot, and characters who are mostly stock B-movie monster bait, despite being professional scientists and sailors.
If you're like me and you like the occasional blood 'n guts monster movie, Deep Black Sea is a quick hit of violence and gore, with spooky if speculative descriptions of the Challenger Deep.
The story takes place aboard a six-billion-dollar deep-sea exploration craft, which the President funded by defunding the Mars mission. NASA is not happy about this, and the NASA scientist who is transferred from the space program to serve aboard the Challenger is the villain of the story. While a resentful scientist who subverts an undersea mission to benefit the space exploration he really wants is a great hook, in this case the villain quickly goes from "bad scientist" to "mad scientist," until it was hard to believe such an amoral psychopath could have passed all the screenings to get into these highly selective programs in the first place.
The rest of the crew is a mix of NOAA scientists and Navy personnel, including two women scientists. Naturally, flirting and hookups ensue within 24 hours of their descent.
Once the Bad Things start happening, the two women go from professionals to shrieking, hysterical children. In fairness, by the last quarter of the book, just about every character was described as "screaming" almost all of their dialog.
Some parts of the book were convincing, including the eerie descriptions of being in a big metal ball creaking with the strain of pressure at 20,000 feet. The depiction of a sea floor teeming with life in the abyssal depths seems to contradict what actual deep sea explorations have revealed, but I'll grant the author some artistic license. Likewise, the "black smoker" undersea volcano, the bacteria that live within it, and the "whale fall" were all interesting embellishments that would make this book a pretty cool movie.
However, it is definitely more horror than science fiction; the science falls down whenever it gets in the way of the story, and whenever the characters have a choice between doing the smart and professional thing or doing the stupid, tension-ratcheting thing, they never fail to do the stupid thing that makes the situation worse. There is also a lot of clunky exposition, and it seemed highly unlikely to me that a crew expected to spend a year together incommunicado at the bottom of the ocean would be so unfamiliar with each other, their respective jobs, and all the technical details of the ship.
Deep Black Sea, in other words, is lightly entertaining as a medium-dumb monster tale, and anyone who's enjoyed any of the monster flicks churned out by the SyFy channel should have no objections to its lack of verisimilitude or prose quality. Recommended for fans of such classics as Deep Blue Sea, Deep Rising, and Leviathan.
Verdict: Page-turning story with monsters who are freaky and gross, buckets of blood, and an atmospheric, scary, and isolating setting. Unfortunately marred by very mediocre writing, cardboard characters who are too dumb to live, and some suspensions of disbelief that are harder to swallow in a book than a movie. 5/10.
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