Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Deep, by Nick Cutter

Nick Cutter, who is being hailed as the latest "Next big thing in Horror" might seem to be a relatively new name in the genre (His first novel, The Troop, was released in 2013), but horror fans may know him better under a variety of other names, including the pseudonym Patrick Lestewka (The name he rose to small-press prominence under in the early 2000's), and his real name, Craig Davidson. I was blown away by Davidson's creepy and bizarre 2010 novel Sarah Court, and buzz over 2013's The Troop was loud and overwhelmingly positive, so I was fairly excited to have a chance to read his latest, The Deep.

 Wow. This one goes off the rails so many times, in so many different ways, that I found it almost impossible to get through. I managed to finish based solely on the fact that I've enjoyed his work before, and I held out hope that he might be able to pull off a great ending that would, possibly, redeem what had gone before. As far as the ending goes, it did, finally, go where I had been expecting the book to go hundreds of pages earlier, but it was far too little, way too late.

 Cutter has the bones of an interesting story here, or perhaps I should say he's scavenged the bones of a lot of other interesting stories and boiled them down into a meandering soup of his own. There are elements in The Deep that will remind horror fans of Alien, The Thing, Leviathan, Deep Star Six, The Abyss, Hellraiser, Event Horizon, and, most prominently, Michael Crichton's Sphere. All of the aforementioned films/books (With the exception of Sphere, which I disliked immensely) would seem to indicate that Cutter should have been able to stitch together a relatively interesting, if not very original, story, but that is, sadly, not the case.
 He starts off with a unique maguffin, which he should probably revisit in a better book: A disease called "The 'Gets", which causes it's victims to forget things. Small things at first, which get progressively larger, until the victims forget how to breathe....This is a very interesting building block for a story, and it's, aside from it's maguffin status, really never touched on again. Instead, the novel focuses on Veterinarian Dr. Luke Nelson, whose brother Clayton is part of a team looking into a possible cure for The 'Gets. Clayton and his team have been dispatched to The Trieste, a deep-sea research facility located eight miles deep, at the bottom of The Mariana Trench. Luke is being sent down as a last-ditch effort to restore communications with the crew of The Trieste: The three-man crew has been silent for days, aside from a radio plea by Clayton for Luke to "Come home."....and then one of the Doctors surfaces in a sub, hideously mutilated by his own hand, and devastated by the bends.

 Luke is taken to The Trieste by Al (Alice), a tough-as-nails soldier who pilots the mini-subs that ferry supplies back and forth to The Trieste. Luke and Al arrive, and find Clayton and the other Doctor locked in their labs, seemingly oblivious to the absence of their colleague. Doctor Toy has gone mad, and Clayton insists that, not only did he not send the message requesting Luke's presence, but that he is also on the cusp of a breakthrough that could potentially cure The 'Gets. The miracle cure could come courtesy of "Ambrosia", a newly discovered substance that seems to exist only in The Mariana Trench, which may not only hold the key to curing The 'Gets, but potentially every other disease out there. Perhaps even death itself.
 As you would expect from it's claustrophobic deep-sea setting, things start going bad aboard The Trieste in short order. Strange noises are heard. Menacing shadows are seen. Luke discovers weird recordings made by the dead Doctor that seem to indicate that The Ambrosia is not what it seems. All of this could have been a very tense little novella, but the novel is mercilessly padded by flashbacks and hallucinations and more flashbacks, and scenes where something terrible happens, but is revealed in the next chapter to have "all been a dream"...Whatever suspense Cutter manages to build (And make no mistake, he milks the cave-like setting of The Trieste for all it's worth, generating some claustrophobia-inducing moments) is undone each time he resorts to a flashback. Luke remembers the time his crazy mother attempted to seduce him, Luke remembers when his son disappeared, Luke remembers when a gigantic millipede got into his son's pajamas, Luke remembers trying to stash a creepy toy-chest in a crawlspace, Luke remembers looking for tadpoles with Clayton when they were children...These flashbacks go on and on and on, taking up roughly half of the book, and probably another third to half of what remains is wasted with hallucinations. There's a nugget of a good story here, but it's buried so deeply that it's virtually impossible to find. A good editor could have probably stepped in and guided Cutter towards a more focused story. As it stands, The Deep is a sloppy, meandering mess, made worse by the fact that it is, sadly, a bore.

 The Publisher provided a review copy.

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