Odd disappearances and deaths, UFOs, and incredible deep-sea technology threaten to submerge naval scientist Jason Parker in alien intrigue.
In James Cameron’s cinematic blockbuster The Abyss, the nail-biting tale of undersea disaster and deep-water military jeopardy took a sudden detour into being an alien-first-contact epic. Clarke’s sci-fi techno-thriller debut isn’t too far from Cameron’s original release, though Clarke more neatly flays those different genres flopping around like fish in a rowboat. Jason Parker is a stalwart U.S. Navy scientist and pilot who, from the air, witnesses what appears to be a UFO splashdown off Florida. Thanks to his expertise, timing, and perhaps a bit of predestination, Parker is on the scene for a series of mysterious deaths among deep-water divers as well as the recovery of an incredible new Russian weapon, a supersonic torpedo. The Tom Clancy–esque gizmo turns out to be a bit of a red herring for the actual secret pursued by semiruthless operatives of the U.S. government. Experiments in psychic “remote viewing” have revealed the existence of intelligence and phenomena not quite of this Earth, hidden in the abyssal depths of the Marianas Trench and the Gulf of Mexico. Parker, who begins hearing voices and glimpsing “shadow people,” finds himself and pretty young oceanography student Laura Smith stalked by, if not Men in Black, then at least Men in Green. The author, an expert in scuba and marine minutiae, knows how to tell a good tale while also measuring the specs of a rebreather apparatus; he even tosses in some real-life ufological lore about which paranormalists have been howling for some time. But rather than filching from Whitley Strieber or other usual suspects, he gives the creatures his own Rod Serling–esque spin (for quite a few chapters, the rationalist hero dismisses the toadlike aliens as hallucinations). It still feels like a bit of a mashup, but the story flows nicely and doesn’t anchor itself to the ballast of too much technical jargon. Bonus points for salutes to Fortean Times magazine and the fairy tale of “The Frog Prince.”
A buoyant undersea-alien yarn that’d make an awesome beach read.