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Oceanspace
Allen Steele
Ace Books, 375 pages


Danilo Ducak
Oceanspace
Allen Steele
Allen M. Steele's first published SF was his story "Live from the Mars Hotel," published in Asimov's Science Fiction in 1988. Since then his novels and collections have included Orbital Decay, Clarke County, Space, Lunar Descent, Labyrinth of Night, Rude Astronauts, The Jericho Iteration, The Tranquillity Alternative and All-American Alien Boy. Steele, a resident of St. Louis, MO, received both the 1996 Hugo Award and the 1996 Science Fiction Weekly Reader Appreciation Award for his novella "The Death of Captain Future," which appeared in Asimov's in June 1995.

Allen Steele Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: A King of Infinite Space
SF Site Review: A King of Infinite Space
SF Site Interview: Allen Steele (part 1)
SF Site Interview: Allen Steele (part 2)

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Allen Steele is, within the realm of science fiction, a traditionalist. He is a hard science fiction writer whose work fits neatly in a direct line of descent starting with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke and continuing through Larry Niven and Charles Sheffield. Steele writes in a straight-forward prose style, and his speculations are based on knowledgeable guesses. He gets his facts right.

It comes as a bit of a surprise, therefore, that the best thing about Oceanspace is not the technology, although that is realistically portrayed, or the sea monster, although that is convincingly threatening, but instead the people who use the technology, and whose lives are affected by the possible discovery of a creature in the depths.

Oceanspace is set in the near future. Sea exploration has progressed to the point where companies mine volcanic ocean vents both for minerals and for the bacteria that live in conditions of extreme heat and pressure. Joe Niedzwiecki is picking up material accumulated by the mining robots when he encounters what seems to be a huge living creature. This brings Judith Lipscomb on to the scene, a research scientist with an interest in sea monsters. Steele adds a sub-plot involving corporate intrigue into the search for the sea serpent, and throws in a meddling journalist to boot.

For the technologically inclined there is Tethys, the undersea habitat that allows human beings to live under the ocean. There is a fair amount of detail regarding life in cramped undersea quarters, and you get a good feel for what it might be like.

What the novel lacks is intensity. The corporate spying and action scenes aren't any better than an average thriller, and while the sea monster scenes are better, they aren't anything we haven't read or seen before. After the plot twists and story lines are over, what you remember from this novel are the smaller moments. A submarine captain telling his story, Judith's developing relationship with her teen-age niece, Peter Lipscomb's struggle with temptation, are all more moving and involving than the industrial espionage and sea serpents.

Oceanspace is, in its speculation and technological aspects, a fairly ordinary science fiction novel. What makes it worthwhile is the author's ability to find several memorably human moments in amongst all the details of a near-future life under the sea.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, about as far from the ocean as you can get in North America. His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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