Review: A darkling Sea by James Cambias

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Publisher: Tor
Publishing Date: January 2014
ISBN: 9780765336279
Genre: Scifi
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Publisher Description: On the planet Ilmatar, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick, a team of deep-sea diving scientists investigates the blind alien race that lives below. The Terran explorers have made an uneasy truce with the Sholen, their first extraterrestrial contact: so long as they don’t disturb the Ilmataran habitat, they’re free to conduct their missions in peace.

Review: Finally, a Scifi novel that lives up to the genre we experienced 20 years ago during the renaissance. Daley, Dietz, Chalker, Asimov and Niven would enjoy this alien interlude. This novel revolves solely within an alien planet, deep beneath the ice covered waters.

There was good scene development, coupled with multiple character progressions that allows for the story to evolve with a complexity that involves the reader. Although the novel has constant movement in the form of action, it is not the “bash, boom, crash!” variety of action novel. Aliens interact and share emotions in the context of living and working in a hostile environment with dangerous factions within each representative species.

I think the resident aliens, the Ilmatarians, had emotive qualities that mirrored humanistic processes as did the Sholen. I am of the opinion, that aliens should be alien from the inner to the outer expression than human norms. Aliens that look differently, reside in strange environments and have bizarre cultural and sexual practices, should process their world in a very alien fashion. The Ilmatarians, while different in many aspects exhibited anger, jealousy, petty envy, rage, war like attributes etc. The base emotions that humans exhibit. The Sholen, while bizarre in their own right, also exhibited these baser humanistic qualities, with a “consensus” rider attached to their decision making. Perhaps it was the authors intent to render all species that reside in this physical plane, exhibiting the qualities of the universal lament; that by being here you will be of the “mind” and not intrinsically aware. There were some processes that were interesting. The Ilmatarian had this weird short-term memory gap-osis and this ready disregard for death amongst familiar brethren. The Sholen were also fairly dispassionate about the loss of familiars, which was odd coming from a species whose culture revolves around copulation.

The cover art is pretty cool except for the big yellow letters smeared across it.

I like aliens that process mental and emotional instances, WAY differently than we do. In order to develop the alien mindset involves time and creative insight. It must flow with the novel in that this process drives the novel in it’s entirety. It was kind of an easy out for the author to lend anthropomorphism to alien beings. There were some rendering instances, like how did the humans and Sholen truly discern their surroundings if the world is in complete darkness. Lights, sure…sonar…? How did the surface of the planet evolve? What is it like now? How is inter-stellar space travel achieved, what other aliens reside in the author’s universe? Still this was a very good novel in all aspects and I highly recommend anyone whom is interested in alien worlds and resident alien interactions to get this.

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2 thoughts on “Review: A darkling Sea by James Cambias

  1. “20 years ago during the renaissance” — and what SF Renaissance is this?

    I wonder if it’s an homage to Ben Bova’s (atrocious) book As on a Darkling Plain (1972).

  2. Sounds great. Will have to watch out for it!

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