Author(s): James L. Cambias
Published by Tor on 01/28/2014
Genres: Science Fiction
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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.
Against the backdrop of deep-sea guerrilla conflict, a new age of human exploration begins as alien cultures collide. Both sides seek the aid of the newly enlightened Ilmatarans. But what this struggle means for the natives—and the future of human exploration—is anything but certain.
I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A Darkling Sea is an interesting sci-fi novel about first contact, misunderstandings and events spiraling out of control. I read a lot of sci-fi but a novel that is essentially focused on first contact and the repercussions of that contact is a premise I have not seen very many times.
This book is really well paced in the front half and kicks into gear early on with the death and dissection of a major character only a handful of pages into the book. While it isn’t the rip-roaring ride you would get from a thriller this book moves fairly quickly for a thoughtful work of sci-fi. That pacing does have some issues in the second half however as the story bogs down and the end feels a little rushed as Cambias works to put all the pieces together and wrap everything up.
The idea behind the pitfalls that could come with first contact I find completely fascinating. I am surprised more works of science fiction don’t go into this, as it seems there are so many possibilities. While the execution of the book is competent Cambias did himself a huge favor by starting with such an interesting idea to work out from.
Besides the central idea of the book the other real star is the world building around the Ilmatarans. I wasn’t that interested in the other alien race, which felt a bit cookie cutter, but the natives were well thought out and smartly executed. Their reaction to events feels very believable to me and he managed to make them feel actually alien.
While you can’t help but draw parallels to other works involving first contact, most notably Star Trek and its prime directive, A Darkling Sea really manages to hold up against most of those comparisons. There are some issues in pacing and with the Sholen that keep this book from being all that it could be, as a first effort James Cambias should be proud of what he has accomplished. This is an interesting book and I look forward to what Mr. Cambias puts out as he matures as a writer.
Review by Travis Starnes