Monday, July 7, 2014

A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

 I don't know who told me about Cambias, he might have been mentioned on According to Hoyt. For a debut novel, it at least begins well. There are several classic ways to tell an First Encounter story, if the aliens are covered under some form of prime directive where humans are not supposed to interfere with their culture, or perhaps even to let the aliens suspect their existence, and I think I've read m stories following all of the possible plots at one point in time or another.  Cambias decides to tell the tale from the humans point of view to begin the story, shifts to the aliens, who live in a frigid ocean under an ice cap, and after playing with that for a while, changes perspective to a member of an alien race which the humans have known far longer, and who are rabidly insistent on non-interference with indigenous peoples. By the time the third group shows up on the scene, it's already too late and (for those of you who remember the 70s), Ethel has already been mooned.

One of the scientists studying the Sholen is a bit of a glory hog, and when he decides to violate the rules in a big way to get attention, things end tragically for him personally and, eventually, for the rest of the scientists. The crustacean-like Ilmatarans capture him and decide to dissect this new creature to find out what it is. The "more advanced" Sholen get wind of this misadventure and two of their ambassadors descend on the station to investigate and hopefully to avoid further contamination, but the political considerations result in escalating tensions and aggression between the two groups.

One of the things that Cambias does quite well is manage the info dumps in this story. We get a paragraph or two here and there, woven into the natural conversations between characters, and especially in the case of the Ilmatarans, he uses "show me, don't tell me" to give us a sense of their culture, language, and appearance. The ending seemed a little bit rushed, and I couldn't decide whether he was fighting a wordage or time deadline to finish it or whether it was simply that he hadn't thoroughly plotted the conclusion before he arrived where the story led him. There was an unexpected twist in the last sentence which left me wondering if it was a setup for a sequel, or simply something clever he wanted to spring upon us. Time will tell, I suppose.

A thoroughly enjoyable read from a new author. Hope to see more.

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