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Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

I discovered Frank Schätzing’sThe Swarm‘ recently by accident. I’ve never read sci-fi / speculative fiction written in German before and so decided to read this for German Literature Month hosted by Caroline from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy from Lizzy’s Literary Life.

The story starts with the disappearance of fishermen in the coast of Chile. Then whales start attacking people at the Canadian coast, something which is unheard of. Strange eyeless crabs invade multiple cities in the U.S. A lobster ends up in a restaurant kitchen in France, and it is infected with something strange and the chef who is trying to cook it dies. This leads to further infection and an epidemic. In the North sea, at the place where the Norwegian oil wells are, strange worms start appearing near the wells. This last thing leads to a big disaster as the continental collapses there leading to a huge tsunami. Scientists investigate these strange happenings, initially separately, and then together. They suspect that all these strange happenings arise from a common cause. Then the stunning truth is suspected and revealed and what happens after that forms the rest of the story.

I loved the science part of the book. Frank Schätzing has done his research well and the science part of the story is very impressive – we can learn a lot about oceanography, continental shelves, the different kinds of waves, the origin of tsunamis, deep sea exploration, whales and other deep sea beings, oil drilling in the deep, the technology involved in all this. I learnt a lot about all these while reading the book. It was almost like reading Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt for Red October’, in which the nonfiction part outweighs the fiction part of the book. The speculative part of the book, especially the main hypothesis, is very interesting. I can’t tell you what it is, in case you plan to read the book. The story is interesting and makes us want to turn the page to find out what happens next. In a book of this size, the pace is uneven as one would expect, and some parts of the story move faster than the others. Frank Schätzing’s prose is functional and workmanlike, as could be expected in a plot-based novel and moves the story nicely along. But occasionally, once in a hundred pages, there is a beautiful passage. Schätzing is German, after all. He can’t just keep writing plain vanilla prose. The romance parts of the book are very unconvincing and laughable though 😄 Clearly, writing romance scenes is not Schätzing’s thing 😄

One curious thing I noticed towards the end of the book, after all the revelations, was that nearly all the bad guys in the story were Americans. It was almost as if, Frank Schätzing had said to himself – “I’m tired of all the thrillers written in the last 70 years, in which the bad guy is German (or Russian or East European), while the good guy is American who comes and saves the world. I want to change this. I want to write a novel in which all the bad guys are Americans.” Then he went and wrote this 1000-page novel. One can almost imagine him, receiving the first copy of this book, after it had been printed, and thumping it on his writing desk and saying “Take that!” I couldn’t stop laughing when I thought about this 😆

I enjoyed reading ‘The Swarm‘. I wouldn’t say that I loved it, but I definitely liked it. I rarely read 1000-page novels. I’ve read only a handful of them in my life. I can count them in one hand. It is not like I don’t like 1000-page chunksters. I love them and I buy them and start reading them but give up halfway through. My home is filled with half-read 1000-page chunksters. So, I was pretty proud of myself when I finished this book. I hesitated to pick it initially, because of its size, but it was so tempting that I couldn’t resist it any longer, and I decided to dip my toe in and see how it went. I’m happy to report that five days later, I’ve finished reading this book. I discovered another book by Frank Schätzing which is even longer. He seems to be the German Neal Stephenson, specializing in chunksters. It is safe to say that I won’t be picking up another Frank Schätzing book anytime soon 😊 But I’m glad I read this one.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“At sea the world was just water and sky, with little to tell them apart. There were no visual markers, which meant that on clear days, the sense of infinity could suck you into space, and when it was wet, you never knew if you were on the surface or somewhere beneath it. Even hardened sailors found the monotony of constant rain depressing. The horizon dimmed as dark waves merged with banks of thick grey cloud, robbing the universe of light, shape and hope in a vision of desolation.”

“Time was of no importance on the land, where the routines and patterns of cities and settlements ceased to exist. Distances weren’t measured in kilometres or miles but in days. Two days to this place, and half a day to that. It was no help to know that it was fifty kilometres to your destination, if the route was filled with obstacles like pack ice or crevasses. Nature had no respect for human plans. The next second could be fraught with imponderables, so people lived for the present. The land followed its own rhythm, and the Inuit submitted to it. Thousands of years as nomads had taught them that that was the way to gain mastery. Through the first half of the twentieth century they had continued to roam the land freely, and decades later the nomadic lifestyle still suited them better than being confined to one place by a house.”

“Research shows that human beings are incapable of discerning intelligence beyond a certain micro- or meta- threshold. For us to perceive intelligence, it has to fit within our behavioural framework. If we were to encounter intelligence operating outside that framework – on a micro- level, for instance – we would fail to see it. Similarly, if we were to come into contact with a far higher intelligence, a mind vastly superior to our own, we would see only chaos, as its reasoning would elude us. Decisions taken by a higher instance of intelligence would prove inscrutable to our intellect, having been made within parameters beyond the reach of human understanding. Imagine a dog’s view of us. To the dog, a person appears not as a mind, but as a force to be obeyed. From its perspective, human behaviour is arbitrary: our actions are based on considerations that canine perception fails to grasp. It follows therefore that, should God exist, we would be incapable of recognising him or her as an intelligent being, since divine thought would encompass a totality of factors too complex for us to comprehend. Consequently, God would appear as a force of chaos, and therefore scarcely the entity that we would like to see governing the outcome of a football match, let alone a war. A being of that kind would exist beyond the limits of human perception. And that in turn prompts the question as to whether the meta- being God would be capable of perceiving intelligence on the sub- level of the human. Maybe we are an experiment in a petridish after all . . .”

Have you read ‘The Swarm‘? What do you think about it?

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