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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

GUESTPOST: What Rivers Flow Into A Darkling Sea? by James Cambias

What books, movies, or stories served as inspiration for A Darkling Sea? That's a tough question. There aren't a lot of works of "undersea" science fiction on my shelves. I've always loved Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and I'm a big fan of David Brin's Startide Rising. But other SF ocean classics like Under Pressure by Frank Herbert, or The Deep Range by Clarke left me cold. During the golden age of crappy sci-fi TV reruns I was always more of a Star Trek guy than a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fan. The fact that I wound up writing a novel set under the ocean would have been a big surprise to my younger SF fan self.

One novel which did feed into A Darkling Sea was H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. It's probably the best thing he ever wrote, a combination horror story and 1920s techno-thriller set in Antarctica, where explorers encounter strange alien beings who are just as curious about the humans as the humans are about the aliens. The chief difference is that it's the humans who are the weird aliens in A Darkling Sea, and the two groups manage to overcome their reflexive suspicion.

I'd say nonfiction had a much greater influence on A Darkling Sea than any works of fiction. One particularly strong one was a blog; Big Dead Place, by Nicholas Johnson. It was all about the gritty realities of living and working in Antarctica — including the political backdrop of the U.S. Antarctic Program, the practical jokes, and the huge popularity of John Carpenter's The Thing among Antarctic personnel. I read that blog religiously while writing A Darkling Sea, trying to give Hitode Station on the planet Ilmatar the same feel.

There were some less obvious influences. Byron Farwell's book The Great War in Africa is about fighting in Africa during World War I. Not much to do with giant alien lobsters — except that it is about tiny forces of Europeans fighting each other over vast distances in an often hostile environment, while the Africans watched them with a mostly bemused attitude about the whole thing.

Another unconventional wellspring was Jenny Uglow's book The Lunar Men, about the circle of 18th-century British scientific amateurs that included Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, James Keir, and Joseph Priestley. That collection of landed gentlemen and early industrialists served as inspiration for my Ilmataran hero Broadtail and his scientific acquaintances.

As to films, I expect James Cameron's The Abyss did have some influence on me, particularly regarding the design of the seabottom station. Another one, very unlikely on the face of it, was John Huston's classic The African Queen, with Bogart and Hepburn. That's another take on World War I in Africa, and you get the same sense of people waging a senseless conflict against a hostile and uncaring landscape. It's also one of the best movies ever made, so if you haven't seen it, go rent a copy at once.

Star Trek did have an influence, but it was a negative one. A primary goal of mine in writing A Darkling Sea was an all-out assault on the notion of a "Prime Directive" forbidding contact between humans and aliens until they're "ready" for it. I've never thought that was a sensible idea, and the main conflict in the story is cause by a more advanced civilization trying to enforce their notion of the Prime Directive on a group of human explorers.

Finally, a big source of inspiration was simply my own experiences. I took up SCUBA diving in the early 1990s, so I've been underwater a few times (not as many as I'd like). The fear of getting isolated and disoriented deep underwater are very real, as are the feelings of wonder and delight at seeing reef life. I married a scientist, so I've spent a lot of time hanging around with researchers and professors, hearing their gripes and anecdotes.

All novels have a very tangled and complicated family tree, and often some surprising antecedents. The DNA can be hard to trace. It's quite likely that the strongest influences on A Darkling Sea are books or films that even I don't know had an effect on me.

Official Author Website
Order A Darkling Sea HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James Cambias was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, he received a degree in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine from the University of Chicago. His stories have been nominated for the Nebula Award and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. Cambias was a nominee for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2001.  He currently lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife and two children. His early writing focused on role-playing games, particularly adventures and support material for Space 1889. He is one of the founders of Zygote Games, and the co-designer of the game Bone Wars: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology, based on the Bone Wars of the late 19th century.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author. Abyss movie still courtesy of John Kenneth Muir.


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