The ocean is a scary place. It’s especially scary when one is 6 miles underwater, in pitch blackness, bitter cold, and with mere steel walls separating one from the crushing pressure of eight tons per square inch at the deepest part of the Mariana Trench.
Such is the setting for The Deep, the new horror novel from Nick Cutter.
I very much enjoyed The Deep, more so than his debut novel The Troop. Like The Troop, it’s a claustrophobic horror novel that uses the same familiar tropes (the Body Horror trope, the Enclosed Space trope) but with the added twist of being trapped in the unforgiving subaquatic environment of the deepest part of the ocean.
So, in the vein of The Deep, here’s a list of horror and speculative suspense set on and beneath the high seas.
Sphere by Michael Crichton. This is the easy analogy for The Deep. Crichton’s novel about a mysterious ship, containing an inexplicable sphere that appears to be extraterrestrial in origin, is also the story of a group of scientific and military professionals in an enclosed space, miles beneath the ocean’s surface. Cutter does a better job of horrific claustrophobia—but Crichton’s science fiction angle in Sphere cannot be beat.
Half the Day is Night by Maureen F. McHugh. A science-fiction novel set in the near future, Half the Day is Night is set in the underwater metropolis of Caribe, with conspiracies and violent pasts resurfacing. McHugh’s novel features beautifully crafted world-building and characters that are nuanced and genuine; while the story lacks some vital tension, if you’re looking to immerse yourself in a speculative fiction realm underwater, Half the Day is Night is a great place to start.
Dark Life by Kat Falls. This is an SF/F book for young readers, set in a future world where certain brave homesteaders are given berths of land underwater in an effort to quench overpopulation woes and lack of space above sea level. Dark Life is an engaging homestead Western, with a sub-aqueous, sci-fi twist.
Tales of Terror from the Black Ship by Chris Priestley. Speaking of books for young readers, Chris Priestly’s Tales of Terror series collects short horror stories, each volume bookended by a larger umbrella story. In Tales of Terror from the Black Ship, a wayward sailor sits out a storm with two somber young children, spinning increasingly unsettling tales of the supernatural at sea. Yes, this book is intended for middle grade and young adult readers—but this is one truly satisfying, creepy collection.
The Swarm by Frank Schatzing. Another easy analogy for The Deep, Shatzing’s The Swarm was originally published in German and became a bestseller both abroad and in the United States. Whales, crabs and the sea itself start violently attacking humans, under the influence of some external, unfathomable intelligence (not unlike the ambrosia of The Deep).
The Terror by Dan Simmons. This is a bit of a cheat, because while the horror of Simmons’ novel takes place on ships upon a frozen sea, it’s not really set underwater. Instead, the characters are marooned on ice. A group of expeditioners in search of the Northwest Passage face inexplicable, supernatural horror when they wreck and are hunted by a great hulking beast. There is bleak psychological terror aplenty here, in a similar vein as The Deep, if that’s your poison of choice.
In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. This is the only work of nonfiction on the list, and probably the most terrifying of the lot because of it. The Whaleship Essex’s ill fate is the story that inspired Herman Melville’s iconic Moby-Dick, and the true story is even more harrowing than the fiction. Read it before the film adaptation from Ron Howard (starring Chris Hemsworth and Cillian Murphy) comes out.
And there you have it, our list of oceanic horror and speculative fiction. What watery tales of terror are on your list?