Dead Sea by Tim Curran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A freighter bound for South America gets enshrouded in a fog bank and emerges in another dimension, a graveyard of ships choked with carnivorous weeds, tentacled nasties of all shape and size, and a mysterious entity that wants them all dead. But will the survivors of the initial shipwreck manage to avoid killing one another long enough to escape horrors beyond human understanding?
Geek Alert: When I was a kid, I was way into cryptids, UFOs, and, of course, the mysteries of the sea. Since this book references both Bermuda Triangle and the Sargasso Sea, I was all over it.
Dead Sea is a paranoid survival horror story, very much a forerunner of Tim Curran's upcoming novella, Blackout. Two groups of survivors fight for their lives against horrible crustacean-fish things, squid- and jellyfish-like horrors, spidery things, and all sorts of other things that man was never meant to lay eyes upon.
Curran mines centuries of sea lore and spins something approaching gold with it. I'm not in a hurry to return to the ocean after reading this or even put my toe in any body of water that I can't see the bottom of. The characters gradually slide closer to the edge of sanity as they encounter centuries old ships and the squamous horrors of a world with two moons and time that flows differently than ours.
The characters do a lot to keep the story going forward. When the horror doesn't come from the environment, it comes from the disintegrating sanity of the shipmates and from Saks, the biggest asshole this side of Galactus's. Seriously, I could not wait for the rest of the survivors punch his ticket.
The ending was pretty satisfying. In a tale like this, you don't expect happily ever after, just a handful of characters better off than the rest. That's pretty much what we got.
In many ways, this book feels like a trial run for Blackout. For me, Blackout is Dead Sea 2.0, a condensed and refined version of the original. If Dead Sea is beer, Blackout is fine bourbon. Since I can't really fault Curran's earlier work being as spectacular as his most recent stuff, I'm still giving this a four, even though it had to work for it.
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