Geoffrey Morrison, $2.99
I won’t lie, the only reason I own a copy of Undersea is its cover. Of course, when I realized that I might have better appreciated the cover if I purchased the dead tree version but by that time, this one was already purchased and stored in my Smashwords library. Oh well.
This one is set some time in the future, when the usual big disaster strikes and changes the world forever, leaving the remnants of humanity to survive in two big submarine things. We focus on one of them, Universalis, because our hero and heroine come from it. Of course, we have one huge submarine, and we also have people using smaller boats to go out to fish for food, so Universalis is more like a floating hub of humanity than a typical submarine thing.
Thom Vargas is a fisherman, and it looks like that is all he would be for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he will soon be caught up in some exciting adventures. You see, our heroine Ralla Gattley is the daughter of an ex-Council member, with the Council being the people that govern life on Universalis, and she has been trying to warn them of some impending problems that will threaten everyone on board. Alas, just like how every movie has someone futilely trying to warn everyone else that there are sharks in the ocean, she’s the one that nobody takes seriously. She tries to do… well, something to fix matters, and Thom may just be the only ally she has in this matter.
It’s quaint just how old school Undersea is in terms of atmosphere and feel. There is an unsophisticated straightforward no-nonsense story here that is devoid of frills or pyrotechnic shows more typical of science-fiction tales of today. Even the characters feel like reliable old school archetypes here, with Thom being the apparently carefree type who turns out to be very capable and Ralla, for the most part, filling in the shoes of a rather typical heroine who needs rescuing by the big strong man. The science feels sound and authentic, and it mostly feels grounded within the realm possibility without any space magic in sight.
With solid setting and well-paced narrative, this is a most readable story. Its biggest flaw, I feel, is its being solid yet unremarkable – there is nothing here that really stands out in any way. It’s not that the author didn’t try. It’s easy to dismiss Ralla as a typical weak damsel, for example, for the first two-thirds of the story, but she’s written to be that way. Her story arc sees her growing into a more confident and less wide-eyed person by the last page, so it’s not like she’s this hapless creature for so long for no good reason. And yet. at the end of the day Ralla still feels very much like a standard stock heroine, and her flat romance with Thom doesn’t add much to her charm. On one hand, these characters aren’t lifeless regurgitation of well-worn clichés, but on the other hand, they could use something – anything – that would make them stand out more as characters in their own right.
Speaking of Ralla, I’m also still unsure as to why nobody takes her seriously in this story. Seriously, the poor darling could testify that the sun rises in the east, complete with video footages to back her up, and people would still wave her off like she’s some silly puppy. I guess the easiest answer would be that the Council is made up of chauvinist types that don’t take women seriously, but this is not entirely the case when it comes to other aspects of society on the Universalis. There are women working alongside men in most lines of work, for example, so it’s not like women are automatically dismissed as silly fools without any thought worth taking seriously. Poor Ralla being the Cassandra in this story feels more like a plot device than anything else.
Having said all this, I don’t really have any serious issue with Undersea. It’s a readable and mostly enjoyable old-school action adventure set in a futuristic dystopian setting of sorts. But still, I can’t help feeling that this story could have been better. Steady the pacing toward the end so that the ending doesn’t hit me so abruptly, give the characters some distinct traits to make their personalities seem less bland and generic, and who knows, this one would have been amazing.