There've been several attempts to make whales the protagonists of non-fantasy fiction; virtually all of them--like, most recently, Robert Siegel's Whalesong (1981)--have fallen fiat, with maudlin preaching and mawkish anthropomorphism. But suspense novelist Searls (Overboard) does the job tough and straight, with humans and international intrigue tossed in for relief; and he's come up with the most widely appealing whalecentered novel yet. (Moby Dick doesn't count.) The hero here is an old sperm giant who--since his seed has grown weak--allows himself to be expelled from his pod, spends two years away, but now returns to his home pod, hoping to lead them to a new feeding ground that he's discovered. The huge new pod-leader, however, seems reluctant to let the old whale rejoin them and live as a bachelor among his former mates. Moreover, the pod has been having a terrible time avoiding human hunters. And, meanwhile, a Russian sub has been sitting for weeks, stuck on a deep-sea mountain-top on the edge of the great shelf, the crew fading slowly into madness and oxygen-starvation. (The zampolit political officer aboard will not allow the captain to send up a buoy for help, which might lead to an American takeover of the sub.) So, while Rostov, the sub's sonar officer, amuses himself with Bach and Beethoven tapes, the whales--who are intrigued by the music--are caught up in the power-struggle between the old giant and the crazed new ruler (who attacks surface vessels); the old giant will never get the chance to give the pod his message about the new feeding ground. But when Roster resolves to sacrifice his own life to save his chums--by becoming a human buoy--it is a Cetacean that saves his life. A somewhat contrived scenario, perhaps. But the whale lore is stirring, the projection of sonar-based whale intelligence is strong, and readers with whale empathy will find this a clear, densely imagined, unsoupy dramatization of the whales' life-cycle and their survival crisis.