December 17th, 2013

Book with cat: space

Book #51: A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias.
(Book given free for review by Tor Books.)

First: I love the title so much. I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it!
The description sealed the deal:
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.

But when Henri Kerlerec, media personality and reckless adventurer, ends up sliced open by curious Ilmatarans, tensions between Terran and Sholen erupt, leading to a diplomatic disaster that threatens to escalate to war.


Let's cover the good parts first:
I loved the aliens. The Ilmataran (think lobster-ish folk) were so interesting. I bought them as a race, I loved their culture and language. The whole world-building about them worked.

The Sholen (think giant otter-people with an extra set of limbs) were interesting in their own way. Again, I fully believed them as a people, and I wanted to know more about them.

Those two races made up two-thirds of the book (until the end of it).

What I didn't like:
The humans. I didn't buy them as people. I didn't enjoy reading about them at all. I did not believe that characters like that would be sent to a tiny research station on another planet. (Look at the testing that goes into checking people who go to the Antarctic station. There's no way that high school-ish loose cannons would be sent off to a station with a couple dozen people on another planet, let alone someone like the media star!)

The only female character with any more characterization than a name fell in love with the male lead for no reason that I could see. One day they don't know each other. Next day the male lead goes off with the media star and breaks every rule set out for the humans, the star getting killed. Then four days later the woman is in love with him, when they had no more interaction than her leaving him paper dolls to cheer him up.

The humans just acted so badly. I didn't buy that adult humans would act that way at all, let alone ones that should have been hand-picked to go to this other planet.

I loved the beginning of the book, when it was mostly about the Ilmataran. I enjoyed the middle, since it was two-thirds about the aliens and only one third about the humans, but unfortunately the end was very human-centric and I enjoyed it least of all.

It's possible I wasn't the right audience for A Darkling Sea. The men were Macho Men and the women swooned before them (okay, maybe not swooned, but fell in love for no reason). The Macho Men tried to protect their swooning women from all dangers. There was plenty of action and adventure, fighting and bandits and battles, so if that's your thing, pick up A Darkling Sea!