TITLE: Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep #1)
AUTHOR: Mira Grant
GENRE: Fiction, Horror
PUBLISHED: November 14, 2017
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon
MOBILISM LINK: Mobilism
Seventy percent of Earth is underwater, and a huge portion of that has yet to be explored. To be sure, technology has gone some way towards giving humanity an idea of what lies at the bottom of the sea: sonar, radar, and submersibles (with and without people aboard) have given scientists a glimpse of what lies in the deep, but so much is still unknown. We know more about the surface of the Moon and of Mars than we know about the bottom of the ocean - something some people find utterly ludicrous. The Challenger Deep is closer to home; Mars is thousands of miles away, and any planets that could potentially harbour life (let alone intelligent life) are even farther still. Never mind fears of extraterrestrial invasion; if anything is going to destroy humanity (aside from itself), it will come from the ocean, not outer space.
And a threat from the deep - both of the water and of human collective consciousness - lies at the heart of Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep, the first novel in the Rolling in the Deep series. It is preceded by a novella titled Rolling in the Deep, but reading the novella is not necessary for understanding what happens in Into the Drowning Deep.
Into the Drowning Deep is set in the near-future, in a time still sufficiently like the present to be recognisable. Victoria Stewart’s sister, Anne, was lost under mysterious circumstances onboard the Atargatis, which was filming a mockumentary for the entertainment company Imagine in the area near the Mariana Trench. Seven years after the tragedy Imagine is sending a second expedition, hoping to find out what happened to the Atargatis's crew and passengers. They recruit Victoria for this new expedition in the hopes that she and the other scientists onboard will find out what happened to the Atargatis -- and bring back proof. Victoria is sure she will find that proof - but is she ready to face the consequences? For that matter, is the world?
One of the first things the reader will notice is how the whole book seems to be a sendup of the “mockumentaries” shown on Animal Planet and Discovery Channel. Though they caught flak from legitimate scientific institutions, such programs have netted both channels some of their highest viewership numbers in a long time. This novel asks the question: what if a production company set out to make a mockumentary and instead wound up finding the monsters after all? Aside from the potential horror fodder such a scenario can create (and does, in this novel), it also raises some interesting ethical questions about the entertainment industry and the idea of mockumentaries in general. Can the audience be trusted to be sufficiently critical of what they are seeing to know what is and is not real? And if they cannot, does the entertainment industry have the right to take advantage of that credulity for the sake of buzz and viewership numbers?
And speaking of questions, the reader may notice how “dense” the novel is with them - dense in the sense that the author takes a lot of themes and interweaves them throughout the book. Consider this excerpt, for example:
What people didn’t understand was how hard Monterey worked for its own survival. They hadn’t been able to stop or slow climate change, but they had been blessed with a high concentration of scientists, drawn by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and its many conservation programs. Faced with the idea of losing that research site, those same scientists had set themselves against the problem with an iron will. They had chased funding, pursued grants, and encouraged innovation. As a result, while the rest of the state was falling into despair, the people of Monterey were building as fast as they could, throwing lines into the future and hoping they would hold.
There are two things that can be parsed out of this excerpt, thematically speaking: first, that climate change is inevitable, because the way things are going right now there is very little that humanity can do to reverse it. Second: science can preserve what is left, but it means having a community of scientists dedicated to the cause, as well as support systems that provide them with the means and opportunity to do so.
Feminism is also an important underlying theme, as the following excerpt shows:
Her admirers said she was beautiful, confident, and clever. Her detractors said she was fat and loud and took up too much space. All of them were, within their limited spheres, correct.
Here is another example, which also tackles how people with disabilities are represented in the workforce:
At least the people who worked for Imagine knew how to laugh, and didn’t treat her like some sort of affirmative action hire. She had her job because she was good at her job. Not because she was a woman, or a twin, or a redhead, and certainly not because she was deaf. But try telling that to some of those assholes. As far as they were concerned, she’d either been hired because her ears didn’t work, or because her tits did.
There are many other such tidbits scattered throughout the novel, referencing everything from the way bisexuals are treated by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, all the way to how academia has a tendency to turn even the best scientists into metaphorical cannibals because of the vicious 'publish or perish' policy currently in vogue.
But one item remains constant throughout the novel: the idea of the ocean as a representation of the dark, threatening unknown, mostly because humanity understands so little of it:
Mankind’s exploration of the oceans has been going on for centuries, yet had barely scratched the surface, leaving much of the depths uncharted. This trip would hopefully change that, in some small ways…if the people made it back alive.
And then there is this:
… Everything that threatens us in the sea has its counterpart on land, with less of the gravity-defying freedom the water offers. So what could have driven us away?
Nothing more nor less than an equal. One whose mastery of the waters outpaced our own, and left us with the choice to flee as predators, or to live as prey. …
The above excerpts gets to the heart of this story: an essentially Lovecraftian idea that the ocean harbours things humanity does not know about and will never be able to understand. As old maps used to say, "Here be monsters," which humanity forgets at its peril.
Aside from the themes and the Lovecraftian core, the other notable aspect of this novel is its characters; specifically, Dr. Jillian Toth and Jacques and Michi Abney. I find them interesting because they are so cold-blooded: Toth in the way that some scientists can be cold-blooded, and the Abneys because they are die-hard hunters who truly believe it is their right to hunt anything weaker than they. Now, of the three of them, Dr. Toth is the most sympathetic, mostly because her coldness comes from a deeply-rooted, iron-clad devotion to the truth:
“…I try not to lie to myself when I can help it. To the rest of the world, sure, but to myself? That’s a bad business. Better not to start.”
In a way, that dedication to truth makes Dr. Toth a truly great scientist because she refuses to lie to herself about anything. Where other scientists can be tempted away from the truth because it does not suit them or it terrifies them (as does happen to some of the other characters in this novel), Dr. Toth sees it for what it is and refuses to be comforted or deceived by lies. It comes off as cold at times, especially in certain situations towards the second half of the novel but it is hard not to be sympathetic because Dr. Toth’s pragmatism leads to solutions to all sorts of problems.
The Abneys, however, are a completely different story. Their coldness comes from a place that is completely incompatible with many current, 21st century attitudes towards animals, as the following excerpt illustrates:
People were so oversensitive to the supposed overfishing of sharks—as if it wasn’t the height of hubris to decide humanity needed to be put into the position of custodian to the world’s apex predators? God had made man to fight and defeat His other creations. Why else would He have made his chosen children physically weak but mentally strong? In the battle between man and shark, the shark should always have won. That it didn’t proved only that man was intended to be victorious, and should be allowed to kill whatever he could before he, in turn, was killed.
Readers will likely recoil upon reading the above excerpt, and in doing so recoil from the Abneys themselves. The sentiment is shared by other characters in the novel, who look upon the Abneys with suspicion, if not outright disgust. While there is good reason to do so, I still think the Abneys are fascinating because their perspective is one that a lot of people used to have when big game hunting was still considered a “respectable” sport, when it was proof-positive that humanity could and would overcome whatever threats were thrown its way. I do not agree with their perspective but they are still fascinating in the same way that a historical relic is fascinating: a glimpse into a past when humanity was less scrupulous, less caring about the world around us.
As for the other characters, they are not always as interesting as I want them to be. Some, like the Wilson siblings, Victoria, Luis, and Olivia, are fun to read about, but they are not quite as intriguing as Dr. Toth. I am also a little sad that Theodore Blackwell was not more thoroughly explored; he seems like an utterly intriguing character. I hope he will make further appearances in the sequels, and he will then have his chance to shine.
Overall, Into the Drowning Deep is an excellent beginning to a new series: Lovecraftian-style horror with a solid foundation of relevant themes pertaining to climate change and the role of science in advancing or hindering its more devastating effects (among many others). Most, though not all, of the characters are fascinating (though not always sympathetic), and the science holding everything together is very plausible, if not outright factual in a lot of places. This is my introduction to Mira Grant’s writing, and while I may have missed the hype on the Newsflesh books because I am just not interested in zombies, I am glad to have picked up this particular series. I am definitely looking forward to more.