If you're thinking about getting away -- like maybe to another planet -- a new science fiction thriller offers highly entertaining escapism.
"A Darkling Sea" by James L. Cambias (Tor Books, $25.99) is an action-packed tale that takes place underwater in the cold, deep ocean of a faraway planet.
In the distant future, under a thick kilometer of ice, humans are observing the actions of an intelligent race, the Ilmatarans, who have no eyes but communicate by sound and sonar.
The Terrans are there by an agreement with the Sholen, another space-faring race, but they are only supposed to observe, not contact the natives.
Unfortunately, media personality Henri Kerlerec decides to break that rule, with unexpected results; ironically, he ends up dead, on an Ilmaratan dissection table.
Underwater photographer Rob Freeman had gone along, taking pictures before Kerelec died; he emerges as one of the novel's primary human characters.
The isolationist Sholen discover what has happened and decide that the humans have broken their agreement; the six-legged aliens intend to shut down the entire operation.
The humans object; tension mounts as conflict between the three sentient races escalates into violence.
Cambia's debut is a superb, carefully thought-out, hard science, futuristic tale dealing with first alien contact. Intriguing, fascinating characters abound in an unusual setting.
The fast-paced novel is deftly told from alternating viewpoints, including the insights of Broadtail (an ostracized Ilmataran scientist) and assorted Sholen who have widely different opinions on how to proceed.
"A Darkling Sea" is enjoyable on a number of levels; it's definitely not a fantasy and it's not the umpteenth installment of a long-running series.
If you're a fan of good old-fashioned science fiction, you won't be disappointed. It's a little strange, but you don't have to be a scientist or scuba diver to submerge yourself in this compelling, unusual tale.
Cambias has been nominated for the John W. Campbell Award and has had stories published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction as well as other anthologies.
He is the co-founder of Zygote Games and has written several table-top role-play game tie-in novels.
This carefully crafted novel is likely to be a strong candidate for the genre's top Hugo Award honors.
Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop,
is a long-time science fiction fan who has reviewed books regularly since 1987.
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This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on March 16, 2014.