24 August 2012

A rich vein of tropes

Science fiction | Greig Beck | Beneath the Dark Ice

I knew when I picked it up that it would probably be lightweight SF. You've seen this trope many times before. If you've seen Aliens vs. Predator, a terrible movie, you've seen the 'hideous creatures under the ice' trope. And perhaps this suffers from comparison with the last book I read with the trope, Gridlinked (see earlier posts), which, too, had a hideous murderous thing under the ice. But it's not steampunk, alien-punk or far future folderol. This is near future stuff.

But this book has another trope, too, and I wanted to see how the two meshed. The hero, Capt Alex Hunter, has become a superman. Nope, no radioactive spiders, just a bullet into a part of the brain which gets superactivated in his case. He can run faster, see further, in the dark, hear better, be stronger, cleverer, you name it. Err, you saw this in the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough. Except that Hunter is not immune to pain.

There is also Dr Aimee Weir, a petrobiologist, who spends the first few chapters slowly falling in love and sharing gazes across the room. For some reason, she can also do instant dissections and tell you all about the Creature under the scalpel.

There is the creepy Dr Silex of the lax ethical codes and roving hands.

Assorted hardcore military types.

And the monster under the ice. OK, I'm not giving away any spoilers about how this monster, a prototype kraken, differs from other trope-y monsters. It's different. Trust me. Whatever is not a trope will not suffer spoilers. OK, hint, Arthur C Clarke did something similar, but not similar enough to make it a trope.

Of course, there are ancient pre-Mayan Altanteans, nonono, they are Aztlans, using granite from Aswan to build a huge city in the Antarctic (facepalm). Except that they built it about 10000 years ago when Antarctica was warm and green. Let me put in the comma: 10,000 years ago. And then it sank under the ice.

Anyhow, with the help of the hotshot climber Monica Jennings and the smitten-by-Monica Dr Matt Kerns, the archaeologist, the whole lot goes down into the ominous cave, in the wake of the previous expedition, of which they have a few bits and pieces left, which in turn was off to rescue a billionaire's planeload of hangers-on, of which pieces, ditto.

And presently they are attacked both by Russians and the creature.

The Russians have been sent by their Energy Minister, who is terrified of the ex-KGB President, and sends in their elite killer unit just in case the liquid under the cave is petroleum, which mother Russian will naturally keep to herself, but the gracious Americans by contrast will either keep safe for the future or share generously. Right. This minister later on turns out to like teen prostitutes and gets assassinated. What's with this penchant of Americans to demonise Russian villains, anyway? I asked this before, and I ask it again. Russia is a democracy and has checks and balances. OK, OK, I'm grateful the Americans don't demonise Indian villains. I'd stop reading their fiction, most likely.

The underground thingy turns out to be a lake with beaches populated by enough new forms of vicious life to give Pellucidar a hat-tip.

As with any Creature movie, the cast gets killed off one by one, leaving very few to be rescued at the end, and as a going-away prize, knocks off a few of the rescuers as well. I'll leave you to guess who gets killed. Is Greig Beck the new George RR Martin (everyone dies!) or more in the Hollywood tradition?

This book will come to you as a Hollywood movie, I predict to you, all dialogue retained intact. [Nooooo, I did not mean to give you a hint.]

Read it on a tired Sunday when you really have no energy for more than some light, fluffy entertainment, and the TV or DVD player are on the blink. It will not make you strain your brain, hough you will learn how blue ice differs from other ice, and what a halocline is. It's what we in India call 'a time-pass'.

But I picked it over serious literature. Therefore you safely conclude my last Sunday was not particularly energetic.

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