Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Allen Steele has made a name for himself writing about the near future exploration of the solar system. However, he has also published novels set entirely on earth, such as The Jericho Iteration. While OceanSpace is also set on earth, it is set on an earth as alien as the planets and space stations which made Steele’s reputation. Because of its terrestrial location, perhaps, OceanSpace seems to be a more likely view of the future than many of Steele's other novels.
OceanSpace begins with Joe Niedzwiecki's deep sea encounter with an enormous sea serpent which demolishes his deep sea vehicle, the Doris. Steele does not leave any doubt in the reader's mind that a sea serpent was involved, and most of the characters who hear of the encounter readily believe Joe's claims, which he is able to back up with images he managed to capture on disk.
The serpent, however, is quickly left behind as the novel follows Peter and Judith Lipscomb and their seventeen year old niece, Andie. The Lipscombs are marine researchers attached to Yemaya, the corporation which operates Tethys, a deep sea laboratory. Andie's arrival at Tethys coincides with the arrival of Leslie Sun, a journalist who has been sent to Tethys to write a promotional piece for her magazine, but is intent on finding secrets she can reveal. Steele's experience as a journalist shows through, although he does not portray Sun in the best light.
Although the scientific aspect of Steele's story has the air of reality to it, many of the events seem a little far fetched. Sun seems a little too able to bend the manager of Tethys to her will and is able to get permission to go on a scientific mission with limited space. Andie is similarly given permission despite a lack of training on both their parts, although this gives Steele the opportunity of explaining how his world works for the benefit of the readers as well as Sun and Andie.
Steele manages to work in several interesting plot twists, ranging from the aforementioned serpent to adultery to an attempted kidnapping. While these make OceanSpace and interesting book, several of the ideas Steele touches on, such as corporate ethics, journalistic integrity, privacy vs. right-to-know, are allowed, like the sea serpent, to be left with only a cursory look.
While the characters and situations are interesting, OceanSpace is, in the end, a little unsatisfying. Steele does not follow through on several potentially intriguing issues which he introduces, instead focusing on the game of espionage which he introduces into the novel.
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