Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When a Fanboy Goes Too Far, No. 2

When A Fanboy Goes Too Far (2nd in a series)

From the January 27, 2009 'Daily Mail' (UK)
Book Review: 'Recall Not Earth' by C. C. MacApp (Carroll M. Capps)

3/5 Stars

According to the Wikipedia entry, C. C. MacApp was the pseudonym of SF writer Carroll Mather Capps (1917 – 1971). Capps wrote a number of short stories and novels during the 60s; ‘Recall Not Earth’ was published in 1970, just a year before his (her ?) death.

“Recall’ is a brief (192 pp) novel taking place in the far future, where a sort of Galactic Federation oversees the political ambitions of a number of alien races. Earth has been destroyed in a war with one of the Federation members, the Vulmot Empire. The novel opens some eight years after the apocalypse; a few hundred Earthmen who happened to survive the destruction of their home world still exist, having been left alive by the Vulmot as an example of what happens to those who dare to anger the Empire. Some of these Earthmen are scattered around the galaxy, serving as mercenaries; others have lapsed into despair, and spend their time as drug addicts or angst-riddled sybarites. With no women having survived the Vulmot attack on Earth, the future of the human race looks bleak, to say the least.

The hero of ‘Recall’ is a down-at-heels space commander named Johnathan Braysen. Braysen is told by a mercenary colleague that the Chelki, former slaves of the Vulmot Empire, have a scheme to allow the Earthmen to rise and defeat the Empire, as well as the promise of access to….Earthwomen ! Hundreds of them, stashed away at a secure location ! Of course, this information serves quite well to get our Terran heroes into a state of acute interest, and within the book’s first 50 pages, Braysen is leading a team of human space raiders, piloting ships supplied by the Chelki, on hit-and-run attacks designed to provoke the Vulmot Empire into war with a rival race, the Bizh.

Soon the tiny band of Terran survivors get their hands on a massive super-spaceship, and plans for revenge are in the offing…but the Vulmot are starting to realize that having a cadre of their erstwhile enemies still alive and kicking may have been a mistake. Can the Earthmen succeed in gathering an intergalactic opposition to the hated Vulmot, or will their frail rebellion collapse and leave mankind extinct ?

In order to avoid spoilers, I won’t divulge much else of the main plot, but it’s safe to say that it’s a standard space opera narrative; there’s not much here that’s particularly noteworthy or original.

MacApp’s (Capps’s) writing is pulp-ish even for 1970 (‘Recall’ is the first time in my reading life when I’ve seen the adverb ‘bunchily’ used ! ), when greater stylistic consciousness was well underway among the majority of SF authors. And the modern reader will probably titter when reading a line like this:

He hesitated. “John, do you think Humbert was actually a fag ?”

On its good side, ‘Recall’ has a fast-moving plot, with some moments of suspense carefully timed and worked into the narrative, particularly when the undergunned Earth fleet contemplates combat with the merciless Vulmot. There are some quasi-New Wave notes to the storyline, in that the surviving Earthmen are not exactly the square-jawed, clean-living heroes of the pulp era; Braysen struggles with a heroin-like drug addiction, and other Earthmen have taken up (rather creepy) lifestyles centering on pliant alien concubines. In this regard, at least, author Capps was attempting to stretch a bit beyond the more hackneyed space opera formula.

Overall, 'Recall Not Earth' is a quick and reasonably enjoyable read for those interested in taking in a conventional SF adventure. Those hoping for a more imaginative storyline, by an author employing superior writing skills, probably won’t find it as engaging.

NOTE: added February 2, 2009

courtesy of io9.com: blatant recycling of the same cover illustration !

according to this link, 'Vampires of Venus' was a pulp SF novel that originally appeared in 1951. I can't tell if 'Five Star' paperback is ripping off Dell's artwork, or vice versa...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Book Review: 'Combat SF' edited by Gordon R. Dickson

4/5 Stars

Nowadays military-themed SF is quite in vogue and profitable, with some publishers – such as Baen Books – emphasizing works within this genre. Other publishers choose to focus on releasing books dealing with licensed characters and settings derived from military SF, such as the Black Library’s ‘Warhammer 40,000’ material that takes up a significant chunk of retail bookstore shelf space.

This definitely was not the case back in the 70’s. ‘Combat SF’ (1975), edited by Gordon Dickson, was one of the few anthologies in hardback or paperback that was conceived as a venue for military SF. In the aftermath of the Viet Nam war it was considered unseemly, if not slightly obscene, to glorify (however mildly) warfare and the military. The political and sociological climate was such that it was quite difficult for writers of SF to market any story or novel that presented soldierly behavior in an approving light.

Joe Haldeman’s ‘The Forever War’ (1974) set the tone for this era’s approach to the military by presenting even heroic actions on the part of enlisted men and women as futile, if not patently absurd, sacrifices. The generals, politicians, and industrialists who ran things were not only indifferent to the sufferings of those under their command, but criminally inept in carrying out the overall strategic aims of the war.

In 1975 Jerry Pournelle and Gordon Dickson were two well-known, published authors who adopted what was then considered a highly reactionary stance, by insisting that sometimes war, and war heroes, were necessary evils (an attitude that earned them some opprobrium from the SF community at large). In ‘Combat SF’ Dickson focused on assembling stories that regarded war and violence from a number of different political and moral viewpoints.

The first story, ‘The Last Command’, is a Bolo tale from Keith Laumer. An elderly tank commander is forced out of retirement when a robotic tank long buried under war debris reactivates and threatens an entire city. Here the tenor is one of admiration for those Old Soldiers who selflessly served, and continue to serve, their country.

‘Men of Good Will’, by Ben Bova and Myron R. Lewis, is considerably more cynical. The Cold War has transported itself to the Moon and despite the inherent hazards of fighting in such a hostile environment , well, we know the Commies and the Yanks still are going to go at it - even if it involves something like suicide...

Joe L. Hensley contributes ‘The Pair’, a low key but effective tale of how sometimes, just the briefest of moments of inter-species understanding may bring a prolonged conflict to an end. This is less a tale of combat than one of peace-making.

David Drake’s ‘The Butchers Bill’ is one of the earliest appearances by the ‘Hammer’s Slammers’ mercenary outfit. There’s not much in terms of Deep Message here; just the nuts and bolts of combat, and dealing with employers who start to have second thoughts about hiring someone else to do their dirty work.

‘Single Combat’, by Joseph R. Green, is one of the more imaginative and gripping tales in the anthology. On a planet occupied by a primitive tribal culture similar in many ways to ancient Africa, Kala Brabant, a human bioengineered to resemble the natives, must carry out an edged-weapon duel with a member of a rival tribe. The narrative entails multiple points of view, but in the story’s climax everything ties together, and Green provides a powerful ending.

Poul Anderson’s much-anthologized time travel tale, ‘The Man Who Came Early’, winds up here in ‘Combat SF’. I suppose there are enough military nuances to the story to make it worthy of inclusion. It’s more of a reflection of how thin the pickings were for military fiction back in ’75, that it winds up being selected for its military merits.

Fred Saberhagen contributes a ‘Berserker’ tale with ‘Patron of the Arts’. There’s really not much in the way of combat or violent action in this entry, which is more of a rumination on the topic of man Vs machine.

Joe Haldeman’s ‘Time Piece’ (1970) is essentially the short story that served as the basis for his later novel ‘The Forever War’. It’s a well-written, hard-hitting story of far-future combat. The philosophical implications of travel to and from distant planets at faster-than-light speeds are neatly woven into the action, and the story’s ending is blunt but effective.

Editor Dickson contributes ‘Ricochet on Miza’. Not a combat story per se, but more of a taut and well-told tale of a hunter and his seemingly helpless prey.

Harry Harrison provides ‘No War, Or Battle’s Sound’. How can you go wrong with a story that opens with this line: “Combatman Dom Priego, I shall kill you,” Sergeant Toth shouted the words the length of the barracks compartment. ‘Battle’s Sound’ does a good job of presenting the physics of combat among starships suspended in interstellar space. At times the story carries with it the tongue-in-cheek tone Harrison often employed in works such as ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’, but the levity is countered by the graphic description of wounding and dying among the airless hulls and passageways of the contested spaceships.

‘His Truth Goes Marching On’ is Jerry Pournelle’s contribution to ‘Combat SF’. It’s a Spanish Civil War-inspired tale taking place on a distant planet where Rebels and Government troops, mainly conscripts on either side, spend most of their time in wearying marches, ignorant of the why- or where - fore, before tumbling into sharp and bloody engagements that come and go with shocking rapidity.

The final story in the anthology is Gene Wolfe’s ‘The Horars of War’. The Horars are androids fighting for the US Army in a near-future war taking place against a nameless enemy, in a jungle setting reminiscent of Viet Nam. Amidst scenes of violent combat, the truth about the deployment of the androids is revealed; there is a cynical and downbeat tone to this story. Of all the entries in ‘Combat SF’, ‘Horars’ best fits the prevailing mindset among US writers and intellectuals in the immediate post-Viet Nam period.

Overall, ‘Combat SF’ is a worthy take on military SF way back when it had a more… clandestine…. character than it does today. Readers of ‘new wave’ and 70’s SF will want to have a copy in their collection.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Review: 'Chernobyl' by Frederik Pohl

3/5 Stars

Pohl’s novel appeared in hardback in September 1987, and this paperback version in 1988; thus, it was written barely a year after the Chernobyl disaster. Of course, some things about the accident and the response to it have come to light in the ensuing years that were unavailable to Pohl while he was writing ‘Chernobyl’. These things, had they been incorporated into the narrative, may have been beneficial for the novel. As it stands, I found that ‘Chernobyl’ started promisingly, but ran out of momentum in the second half, as too much attention is diverted from the accident scene per se in order to focus on the various personal crises of the featured characters.
These characters are fictional, but represent person(s) in action at the nuclear power plant located just three kilometers from Pripyat, a small new city in what is now the independent nation of Ukraine. On April 26, 1986, an explosion took place in reactor No. 4; the reactor was essentially destroyed, and large chunks of its uranium and graphite core were blown into the immediate environs of the plant, starting serious fires that threatened to involve the other reactors at the site. Smaller radioactive particles and dusts were dispersed into the atmosphere and contaminated an enormous swath of western and eastern Europe. The reactor core was set afire, and only a herculean, thirteen-day effort by the Soviet government appears to have extinguished the fire ( some observers feel the fire went out on its own, and that efforts to put out the fire by dumping material onto the flaming core actually increased the likelihood of further catastrophe). An equally massive cleanup effort was then launched to dispose of dangerously radioactive debris, and the remains of reactor No. 4 were entombed in an immense concrete and steel ‘sarcophagous’.
Nearly 50 people died as a result of the blast, or acute radiation exposure following the blast. As far as the long-term public health consequences are concerned, depending on who is publishing the statistics, thousands, or even millions, of radiation-related cancers and other diseases among European residents are due to radioisotopes generated by the disaster.
The Gorbachev regime, in typical Soviet fashion, refused to release any information about the disaster until a radioactive cloud had been detected in Scandinavia nearly two days after the first explosion at reactor No. 4. When the Soviets did release information they withheld many details, which angered many otherwise liberal western European governments; Chernobyl was in many ways instrumental in the downfall of the Soviet Bloc. However, to this day most Americans have only a vague knowledge of the Chernobyl disaster and the profound impact it had on modern European history and politics. In this regard, ‘Chernobyl’ is useful entry in the English-language literature on the topic.
Pohl’s treatment follows a set of Ukrainian and Russian characters from the days preceding the accident to the construction of the sarcophagous starting in late May 1986. The first third of the novel does a good job in carefully explicating the setup of the RBMK reactor No. 4 and the reasons for its explosion (an ill-designed experiment to see if a powering-down reactor was still capable of delivering power to the electrical grid).
The main character is one Simyon Smin, director of the plant, and (presumably) the fictional counterpart of real-life director Viktor Bryukhanov. Other characters include the plant engineer; a KGB overseer; a power plant technician; an indifferent soldier; and assorted wives and relatives. They are all well-drawn individuals and the narrative introduces them, and involves them, in the unfolding drama in a smooth and readable manner for the book’s first 175 pages.
Unfortunately, it’s the remaining 182 pages that tend to be a letdown. Pohl increasingly turns his attention away from the accident and the desperate measures to deal with it, to instead focus on the personal and political dramas of his main characters. The reader has to slog through extended hospital-bed conversations and the like, all the while wondering to himself or herself: what is going on back at Chernobyl?!
Things aren’t helped by the insertion into the narrative of too many passages of questionable relevance to both the disaster and the campaign to ameliorate it. For example, we are treated to the antics of an affluent, but clueless American couple who are on vacation in the Ukraine; Simyon Smin’s elderly mother is used to give ponderous exposition on historical anti-Semitism in the region; and there is a young American embassy clerk in Moscow who gets second-hand info from various Soviet apparatchiks, thus giving Pohl an opportunity to learnedly hold forth on the state of glasnost ca. 1986. It’s frustrating to have to wade through this filler material.
It may well be that Pohl, lacking access to in-depth information about the circumstances surrounding the disaster and the cleanup, was forced to rely on weaving these personal dramas into his plot. But I think the book could have been improved by jettisoning such diversions and instead placing the emphasis on the inherently gripping drama surrounding the damaged reactor. Pohl’s ‘Chernobyl’ is a decent enough read, but in my opinion, the definitive English-language novel about Chernobyl remains to be written.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Book Review: 'The Mask of Cthulhu' by August Derleth

2/5 Stars

‘The Mask of Cthulhu’ was first published in 1958 by Arkham House; this paperback version from Ballantine Books was published in May 1976 (a second printing; the first was in 1971). This Ballantine book has an underwhelming cover illustration of Cthulhu by Murray Tinkleman and, somewhat unusually, futher portraits of our hero as halftone illustrations on the inside front and back covers as well. Interestingly, the front cover sports a stylish devil’s head colophon reading ‘Ballantine SF / Horror’; I’ve not seen this colophon on any other Ballantine books of this era so I suspect this was a one-time design effort.

‘Mask’ contains six short stories written by Derleth from a period spanning 1936 – 1953. All but the last story first appeared in ‘Weird Tales’.

‘The Return of Hastur’ involves a creepy old mansion (are there any other kind ?!) in Arkham; Amos Tuttle has passed away, with orders in his will that both his house, and his collection of forbidden books, be destroyed. When his nephew Paul Tuttle opposes these stipulations and moves into the mansion, he soon notices the sounds of something…. big…. walking around in the caverns underneath the house. Never a good sign in HPL country…

‘The Whippoorwills in the Hills’ takes place in the desolate rural areas outside Arkham. After his cousin Abel goes missing, Dan Harrop travels to his cousin’s abandoned house, seeking clues to the disappearance. It seems cousin Abel was dabbling in Forbidden Things; every night a massive flock of the eponymous birds congregates outside his house and chirps ‘til dawn. Dan Harrop is unable to learn much about his kin’s strange vanishing act, but before too long, corpses of men and cattle start to appear on the landscape….

‘Something in Wood’ deals with a music critic whose hobby of collecting primitive curios brings into his possession an eldritch figurine of an ‘octopoid’ deity of some kind. As HPL fans know, this never results in a happy ending…

In ‘The Sandwin Compact’, Eldon Sandwin and his eccentric father Asa find themselves victimized by an unholy agreement made between their ancestors and the Ancient Ones. When deities like Cthulhu and Lloigor come calling to collect their due, can Eldon and Asa hope to resist ?

‘The House in the Valley’ finds painter Jefferson Bates vacationing in a quaint rural farmhouse ouside Arkham. The former inhabitant, Seth Bishop, has mysteriously disappeared. Could his disappearance have something to do with passages below the earth littered with bones stripped clean of flesh ? Bishop’s collection of Unholy books ? The strange, late-night sounds of something moving about in the caverns below the house ?

In ‘The Seal of R’lyeh’ a younger member of the Phillips clan takes possession of Sylvan Phillips’s mansion near Innsmouth, near the coast of the Atlantic. The narrator befriends Ada Marsh, a young woman with a rather unusual appearance, and together they embark on a quest to learn why Sylvan Phillips was so interested in certain exotic, far-off places…and images of a monstrous creature called Cthulhu….

Derleth wasn’t the most accomplished of writers; many of his sentences go on too long, have what could politely be called an ‘awkward’ syntax, and often involve unseemly collisions of multiple verb tenses. Despite spanning nearly two decades of magazine publishing, the stories tend to recycle the same plot device and the same narrow collection of Lovecraftian motiffs. It’s clear from the stories in ‘The Mask of Cthulhu’ that Derleth was content to adhere to the same formula over his career as a writer, and he was reluctant to make anything more than modest alterations to either his prose style or the creativity of his narratives.

A glance at amazon.com shows that several second-hand editions of this book, produced by various publishers, are available for a variety of prices. While I can’t recommend ‘The Mask of Cthulhu’ to readers of horror literature in general, true-blue HPL fans may want to pick up a copy to complete their collection.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Book Review: 'Ariel: The Book of Fantasy' by Thomas Durwood

3/5 Stars

'Ariel: The Book of Fantasy' (1978) was one of the more unusual experiments in retail fantasy literature and art publishing in the mid-70s. There were four issues (‘volumes’) printed between 1976 and 1978.

‘Ariel’ was a large (12 “ x 9 “, 80 – 100 pp), full-color magazine printed on quality paper stock, and featured illustrated fiction and comics from a number of well-known genre authors and artists. Ariel carried a steep cover price ($6.95) for the mid 70’s, which unfortunately placed it out of ready reach for the burgeoning, but young and poor, generation of SF and fantasy fans then starting to make their economic presence felt (albeit if only in a modest way). After four issues had been produced Ballantine decided to pull the plug on the magazine, and there really hasn’t been anything quite like it on the retail shelves since (perhaps a sign that this form of publication just doesn’t strike much of a chord with the US buying public).

It appears that Ballantine was trying to tap into the audience that had supported its Adult Fantasy paperbacks series (which ceased publishing in 1974, but continued in some fashion under the Del Rey imprint). It also may have been the case that Ballantine was trying to tap into the audience purchasing trade paperbacks on fantasy art, issued in the mid-70s, by rival publisher Bantam Books / Peacock Press. In any event, ‘Ariel’ was of sufficient quality and sophistication so as to avoid being (ill-)considered in retail circles as a ‘stoner’ publication, like Heavy Metal magazine (which started appearing in April of 1977).

Issue three of ‘Ariel’ (edited by Thomas Durwood) featured as its cover an arresting illustration (‘Devil’s Lake’) by the English artist Barry Windsor-Smith, who is the subject of an interview in the magazine. By 1978 Windsor-Smith had long since departed Marvel and ‘Conan’, and was making a living as a studio artist. The interview is an informative one and touches on the artist’s philosophy of the ‘New Romantic’ movement in art and illustration, and his admiration for the artists of the Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite eras.

Among the other entries in volume three is a new Elric story, ‘The Last Enchantment’, by Michael Moorcock, with illustrations by Tim Conrad; a poem by Robert E. Howard, ‘Musings’, with an illustration by Jack ‘King’ Kirby; an admirable comic adaption of Harlan Ellison’s story ‘Along the Scenic Route’ by Al Williamson; and a short story, ‘The Halls of the Frost Giants’, by Alexander Heart, with illustrations (in an Arthur Rackham style) by Michael Hague.

A nonfiction article is also featured; ‘A Visit With Frank Herbert’, by Paul Williams, who chatted with the famed SF author on a visit to Herbert's farm near Seattle. The profile focuses on the various eco-projects (wind power, methane from chicken manure, etc.) Herbert was engineering on his homestead. I can’t say I was ever a fervent fan of Herbert’s work, but the article is an interesting look at someone trying out a ‘green’ lifestyle back when such a thing was considered a pastime either of the comfortably affluent, or hippies trying to hold on to the fast-fading echoes of the 1960s.

The quality of the reproductions appearing in the magazine is quite good, particularly when one remembers that ‘Ariel’ appeared in the pre-computer-based typesetting and printing era.

Issues of 'Ariel' (ranging from ~ $10 to $20, depending on the book's condition) are available from a number of online vendors of used books and comics.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Book Review: 'Bloodshift' by Garfield Reeves-Stevens

3/5 Stars

Blood Shift’ (1981), by Garfield Reeves-Stevens is a suspense novel featuring contemporary vampires. These vampires are not the jaded decadents of an Anne Rice novel, but genuinely nasty creatures who delight in torturing and enslaving humans. They have lived in secret, as a kind of perverse European sub-aristocracy, for centuries. Aided by its human allies, the Undead Clan, from its position in the shadows of history, has manipulated the entirety of human affairs. But now the Clan has plans to emerge from hiding to conquer the world and turn mankind into their playthings.

Granger Helman is a retired assassin who finds himself hired by Diego y Rey, the leader of the vampires, to eliminate one Adrienne, a rouge vampire who opposes the Clan’s ambitions. Adrienne is on a desperate mission to alert the world to the menace of the Clan. Also in the mix is a special detachment of vampire hunters, created by the Vatican to destroy the Undead, and US covert operatives, who have their own reasons for not wanting to see the Clan gain control over America. All of these forces intersect in a violent struggle to determine the fate of the human race. Will Helman decide to serve the Undead, or ally himself with Adrienne ? Can the forces of the Vatican succeed in thwarting the vampires' goal of world domination ? Can the American covert ops forces be trusted, or do they have their own questionable agenda ?

‘Bloodshift’ features a cover blurb from Stephen King: ‘Garfield Reeves-Stevens is the Tom Clancy of horror’ and there is some truth to this marketing ploy. The novel has the pacing and character of a techno-thriller that happens to use vampires, rather than terrorists, as the primary antagonists. Helman and his allies are by no means superheroes, and Diego y Rey is a formidable adversary, so the outcome of the conflict is never tilted to the side of Good. In general, things move along at an engrossing clip all the way to the last of the book’s 280 pages.

There are some weaknesses to ‘Bloodshift’. There are a number of passages earlier in the book that suffer from too little exposition on the part of the author, and the identities and motives of the conflicting covert organizations are confusingly presented. Sub-plots dealing with scientists and their research programs into unusual infectious diseases pop up in a rather haphazard fashion and tie into the overall narrative in a clumsy manner at best. Some aspects of the storyline are more than a little contrived, and will have readers familiar with the Modern Vampire genre (think the ‘Blade’ and ‘Underworld’ movies) rolling their eyes.

But other parts of the book are well done; a flashback dealing with Adrienne’s initiation into vampirism is particularly harrowing. And while the middle third of the novel drags a bit, things pick up speed in the final thirty pages and the ending, while effective, is by no means telegraphed to the reader.

Overall, fans of action-oriented horror fiction, as well as thriller fans in general, will find something to like in ‘Bloodshift’. Those with a preference for a more subdued and slowly paced vampire story will probably not find it to their liking.

Book Review: The Lord's Pink Ocean

Book Review: 'The Lord's Pink Ocean' by David Walker

3/5 Stars

The Lord’s Pink Ocean’ (by David Walker) was published in hardcover in 1972. This DAW paperback edition (No. 67) was published in 1973. It has one of the better covers (by Josh Kirby) for a DAW book of that era, although I can’t say the cover illustration is particularly relevant to the novel.

‘Ocean’ takes place early in the 21st century. The unremitting pollution of the late 20th century has birthed a new strain of toxic, pink-colored algae which has taken over the salt and fresh waters of the planet. The landscape surrounding the contaminated waters is lifeless and gray, and the algae prevent any other plants from sprouting; indeed, any life trespassing on the contaminated zones is instantly poisoned and consumed. Most of the world’s population is dead. A few survivors eke out a primitive living in a rural area near Boston, where a spring feeds a lake located in a lush valley that has so far remained free of the algae. Two families, descendants of refugees from Boston, reside in the valley: the Parkers: James and Ruth, and their daughter Mary; and the Smiths: Robert and Janet, and their son Ian.

The two families have an uneasy alliance; nonetheless, they manage to overcome their mutual distrust in order to collaborate on crude construction and agricultural projects. As children, Mary Parker and Ian Smith are friends; but what will happen when they get older ? The Parkers are black, the Smiths white, and neither James Parker nor Robert Smith are over-inclined towards embracing racial harmony.

To complicate matters, there are strange sounds in the sky and glimpses of what appear to be flying machines. Are other survivors of the algal apocalypse present ? And what happens when they discover the unique oasis shared by the Parker and Smith families ?

‘Ocean’ is a short (160 pp) but well-paced and engaging psychological drama, rather than an SF novel per se. The algae are used as a plot device for Walker to set up his tale of youthful ambition conflicting with the staid ways of the elderly; very much a stylish topic in the early 70’s. In fact, the scientific background for the algal bloom isn’t introduced until later in the novel, and when it does appear it’s somewhat belatedly tossed into the plot.

The novel works because the author weaves suspense into the interpersonal conflicts between the two families, and also into the troubling prospect of contact with outside authorities. There’s never a sense that ‘good’ will triumph and the story necessarily will have a happy ending.

As an example of early 70’s Eco-Catastrophe SF, ‘Ocean’s' small scale and intimate setting don’t give it the overall scope and power of, say, Brunner’s ‘The Sheep Look Up’ or Harrison’s ‘Make Room ! Make Room !' But it’s an effective novel, and one of the better representations of this genre of speculative fiction.