Mira Grant's "mermaid" novel
Science fiction is not my usual genre. It's not that I don't like it, it's just that I have so many other books on my to-be-read list that I don't gravitate toward sci-fi. But when my son and daughter-in-law recommended Mira Grant's Into the Drowning Deep based on my interest in ocean exploration and - I publicly admit it - my fascination with the legend of mermaids, I was all in.
Into the Drowning Deep was definitely a compelling read that kept me interested. I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next. Which made me wonder...
What is it that makes a great science fiction novel?
I did some research to find out what experts say makes good science fiction.
Several writing gurus spewed out what they believed were the elements of great science fiction. Tidbits like this...
You must entertain the audience and create "a sense of wonder." You have to be able to make the audience suspend their disbelief. Of course, you should write skillfully and create a good title.
Another site mentioned that science fiction must include relatable characters, themes about humanity, and the supposition of "what if."
I would argue that each of those qualities is necessary for ALL fiction, not just science fiction!
Two other elements were listed as necessary for writing good science fiction:
One, putting the story in an unfamiliar setting
Two, interspersing it with innovative technology.
Unfamiliar settings do make sense for science fiction novels. Outer space. Remote, unexplored locations. Futuristic and apocalyptic landscapes. Unfamiliar settings ARE necessary. It is, after all, hard to imagine a science-fiction plot happening in my familiar kitchen!
Innovative technology is also an essential element of good science fiction. Who would believe a science fiction book without cool gadgets and amazing contraptions? (Remember the replicator on Star Trek?)
Missing the obvious
The writers who gave all the above advice about what makes good science fiction missed the most obvious point.
What makes good science fiction is SCIENCE.
It is the titular "SCIENCE" in science-fiction that makes those stories work. In a kind of verbal equation, the two sides balance out. There must be an abundance of facts to balance the extraordinary fiction. The weight of science, real hard facts, terminology, and data give credibility to outlandish creatures, unknown phenomena, and bizarre settings.
It's the "facts" that make it possible to believe the fiction.
Into the Drowning Deep
Into the Drowning Deep was a good read because of the science it contains.
The presence of hundreds of scientists with different specialties, various hypotheses, elaborate gear, and realistic-sounding data convinced me that the plot of Into the Drowning Deep might have actually happened.
Seven years before the book starts out, a very wealthy entertainment company named "Imagine" sent a vessel named the Atargatis to film a mockumentary on mermaids. The Atargatis set sail with a full crew, but no one ever returned and no bodies were ever found. A bit of film footage survived and showed horrible carnage done by sea creatures that crawled on board. Most people think it was a hoax drummed up by Imagine to get more views.
Now Imagine Entertainment has spent millions equipping a state-of-the-art vessel, the Melusine, to do two things: Find out what happened to the Atargatis and find mermaids.
"Tory" Stewart is a marine biologist who has studied sounds, sonar, and underwater noises all her life. For the last seven years, she has grieved the loss of her sister, one of the lost souls of the doomed voyage of the Atargatis. Torry and her wealthy science partner, Louis, are chosen to be part of the team that Imagine Entertainment Company is sending on Melusine's mission. Scientists are essential because they bring credibility to Imagine's quest.
Do you know the difference between mermaids and sirens?
What the crew of the Melusine vessel discovers is not what they expected. No docile, elusive mermaids, but a much more dangerous creature. Those who doubted, doubt no more when danger lurks in every wave and people die gruesome deaths.
The scientific crew includes deaf twins, Holly and Heather. Heather takes her submersible down to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench and gets the first glimpse of the creatures but suffers dire consequences. Also, there's a broadcaster named Olivia, and much of the book focuses on Olivia and Tory's blossoming relationship.
But most of the book focuses on the search for mermaids, the differing reactions to an alternative species, and how intensive scientific research helps us understand things we've never seen before.
Why Into the Drowning Deep is great science fiction
Into the Drowning Deep is not just science fiction. It's a sci-fi, horror, and adventure story wrapped into one. The remote, unfamiliar setting of the Mariana Trench - the deepest place on earth - emphasizes the danger of searching for an elusive species. The fact that the crew of the Melusine is confined onboard with no one around to help them, adds to the tension, the fear, and the believability of the plot.
If you want to try a novel that is a definite thriller and emphasizes all the traits that make great science fiction, read Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.
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