Presenting another SF novel review! I just tore through 2014’s A Darkling Sea by James L Cambias in a handful of days, and very much enjoyed it. Here’s an Amazon link if you want to read the blurb, or other reviews, otherwise read on to find out what I thought of it!
This standalone alien contact novel is a fast-moving and fun read. It takes place on an icy moon called Ilmatar (which is very much like Europa) in a far off star-system, where a gruesome first contact accident leads to a multi-species diplomatic incident.
I can’t help but think of this as Vernor-Vinge-lite, in a good way. In half the page-count of a sprawling novel like A Deepness in the Sky or A Fire Upon the Deep, Cambias tells a story similar to both (but far less complex) about human and alien interaction on a distant planet. However, instead of orbiting above the alien planet like in Deepness, the humans in this novel are in undersea scientific habitats like those in Michael Crichton’s Sphere and other novels with a similar setting. There, the humans are conducting research on the biota of Ilmatar, while being careful not to overstep interplanetary contact laws. Policing those laws are another alien race, the Sholen, who act as the main antagonists in the novel, but who aren’t necessarily the “baddies”. The narrative is told from the perspective of all three races, and I found I sympathised with all the main characters equally.