Zombos Says: Good
They expected torment and death.They expected thirst and drowning. They expected starvation. They expected suffering in all its guises and, yes, they expected things to come at them out of the mist, the sort of things that had crawled alive and breathing from nightmares and cellars and dank dark places. And on this matter they were right.
"Oh, stop being such a spoilsport," Zombos said, helping Zimba aboard the yacht. Chef Machiavelli, dressed in his Speedo Fiji Garden watershorts, pouted as he passed me, waving his finger.
"No. No. And no again." I was adamant. "Let others go down to the sea in ships. I'm not setting foot on that deck, no way, no how." Zombos threw up his hands in disgust. I folded my arms tighter in defiance.
After reading Tim Curran's novel, Dead Sea, there was no way in or outside of hell I was going to put one foot aboard any ship. I didn't want to have my eyeballs sucked out of their sockets through my butt, nor did I want some gelatinous, throbbing, hairy ovoid turning my insides out. Between Jaws, the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch, and now Dead Sea, I hate the water and every hungry, slimy thing swimming through it. Jacques Cousteau be damned.
And damned is what the crew of the Mara Corday find themselves when the oily luminous fog washes over them and knocks out all of their high-tech navigation equipment. Unlike Scott Carey's increasing problems with his diminishing stature in The Incredible Shrinking Man, after a similarly bizarre encounter with a luminous mist while boating, the Mara Corday's crew has to deal with the increasing encounters--and sizes--of the ubiquitous and ever-larger pelagic inhabitants of an ungodly and unearthly ocean. And boy are they hungry; both the crew and those slimy, endlessly-tentacled inhabitants, that is.
While reading Curran's deadly sojourn into this alien body of water, I was reminded of Hammer Films' The Lost Continent, which was derived from Dennis Wheatley's Uncharted Seas. An avowed William Hope Hodgson fan to boot (interview), Curran loves the sea so much he apparently wants to frighten the rest of us away so he can enjoy it all to himself.
Making doubly sure he covers both cosmic and supernatural bases, Curran tosses in a little Lovecraftian spice in the guise of a master evil that prowls around his alien seascape, sucking out the minds of unfortunate victims like a 7-Eleven Slurpee through a straw.
Curran anchors his story around George Ryan, a first-time seafaring man who reluctantly goes on the voyage for the needed money, and rocks the boat with Saks, a loud-mouth, "slab of cement," that you keep wishing would get his comeuppance. The other crew members are colorful and full in personality, and as their predicament becomes more dire, act in all the right and wrong ways you would expect people to do in such a situation.
Then there are the others. As the crew enters the mist and things go to hell, Curran's version of the Graveyard of the Atlantic, in which they've unwittingly entered, is populated with an ever-increasing assortment of briny, spiny, and deadly sea-life that not even Diver Dan would want to talk to. No sooner do they enter the mist than a crewman starts screaming about something inside him and off he goes over the side. Or was he dragged over the side? Then another crewman is snatched by something coming out of the thick fog. And before you can say "thar she blows," the Mara Corday is struck by another ship and soon everyone is into the water trying to stay alive.
We follow their struggle for survival, alternately moving between the survivors in the raft, the lifeboat, and those just bobbing up and down on the debris from the sinking vessel. Fighting off the increasing attacks by the bizarre sea creatures--and their own petty squabbling as Saks just can't keep his mouth shut--they slowly realize something else is seductively prowling around in the heavy luminous fog. Something that sounds like a woman's voice, but it's not a woman, making the hairs on the back of their neck stand on end. Then there's that buzzing sound over the radio. It's not static, but they're not quite sure what it is.
Curran keeps the action moving, but does lapse into an overly long discussion--made by the survivors--of where they are and what the hell is going on. He also tosses in references to pop culture TV shows that make you self-conscious of the narrative you're reading, disrupting the mood he is so carefully building. But his power at describing the alien and supernatural horrors of this Sargasso Sea will keep you reading page after page, hoping this or that character will survive, and wondering about the next horror to come splashing up out of the water.
Or out of the mist. In one tightly-written and creepy encounter with a derelict ship, the USS Cyclops, Curran steers his story neatly into an eerie and scary rendezvous that lies between ghostly terror and icky creature-horror. You'll feel shivers down your spine just as the crewman who board her do.
Not satisfied with describing fibroid horrors feeding on the survivors, or multi-legged beasties with puckered mouths hungering for their flesh and blood, or an irradiated horror that melts the flesh from their bones into sticky puddles, Curran tosses in a UFO, the Fourth dimension, and a building climax of impending doom if they don't find a way out.
Dead Sea is a good choice to read at night, when you're all alone. Author Tim Curran displays a masterful touch at mixing genres, and in keeping the pace moving as he shifts the story back and forth between the separate groups of survivors struggling to stay alive and the horrors that wait patiently all around them.
"I say, what's that thick fog rolling in?" Zombos said, just as he was casting off the tether lines. "Is it glowing? Zoc? Zoc?"
I didn't answer him. I was too busy running as fast as I could to the safety of the mansion.