The Deep by Nick Cutter
Book Review By Sean M. Sanford
The Deep involves many…depths. Sure, it primarily takes place in the bottommost recess of the Pacific, but it also involves familial alienation, societal islands, and a few of man’s best friends being used for biological experiments. Nick Cutter takes us to an environment fraught with barriers and warning. Coupled with a brand of aquatic evil that’s trying to get devastatingly friendly. Maybe mixed signals conduct well under water.
At the heart of the story is a disease, a condition, a GD pandemic that has brought mankind to its knees. It’s past the point of anti-vaxing and maskless proclamations. Everyone’s just plain fucked; and everyone knows it. The disease makes people forget: at first it’s stuff like leaving the headlights on, or an anniversary. But anyone effected with the disease will soon start forgetting more important stuff, like the fact that survival requires food and breathing. Here we see to a world in which most of the population is exceedingly relaxed, as in pretty much (or completely) dead.
Wouldn’t you know it? An alleged cure has been discovered. Thing is, it can only be harvested from the bottom of the Marianas Trench. Eight miles beneath the ocean? Not an easy commute. A station is set up thereabouts, for an elite team of scientists to explore a life-saving membrane that seems, shall we say, cryptic.
Allow me to introduce Luke. He’s not a fan of the plague. He’s watching the world around him run on fumes, like a whole society of alcoholics the morning after a bachelor party. He’s been requested by his brother Clayton, one of the scientists toiling in the submerged station. Thing is, Luke comes from a family that included an abusive mother who minced their emotional well-being. He hasn’t spoken to Clayton in years, and even when they were on less fist-fighty terms, Clayton wasn’t all that interested in Luke as a human, let alone a brother.
But hey, Clayton’s in the watery beyond, calling out for Luke. So, he heads on down, more out of curiosity than necessity. A morbid curiosity, as he’s interested in what good could possibly come of it. But as he looks at the world around him, he figures it couldn’t be much worse below sea level. Plus, he’s escorted down there by Alice Sykes, a US Navy Lieutenant Commander who isn’t hard on the eyes. And if we’ve learned anything from horror books and movies, we know that the odds for a sexy rendezvous are not beyond reason.
As can be expected about the science station’s hood, it’s not much like the world as we know it. Light doesn’t exist. Nor do any of the marine world personalities we know and love. It’s also intent on killing stuff. Especially humans. The station’s makeup turns out to be a modest quandary as well. It seems to have a bit of a temper. Especially in the parts of it where the element at hand –that which is alleged to save mankind- seems to have acquired control beyond the physical laws of nature that we Earthlings take for granted.
One of the things I found great about The Deep, was its proposal to cast away expectations. I gave up guessing outcomes, beyond the vaguest of terms, because as the story progressed I found myself continuously puzzled as to how the hell we ended up where we did. Nick Cutter does a great job of presenting the situations as Luke learns them, keeping us as ignorant and wtf’d as he is. It will also lapse into flash backs that show us parts of his life that illustrate why (beyond the man-eating virus) he may have felt the notion to essentially leave the planet. It has a small cast of characters, but colors them all in ways that feel authentic enough to make me a bit emo whenever they might have classic ailments, like feel lonely, get the bends, or follow a mysterious portal to some equally mysterious nightmare.
Part of what made this book nice and scary for me was the bizarre world it brought me to. I had no idea what to expect, which is something I’ve come to appreciate in every book I’ve read by Cutter. It’s got some very interesting characters too. The scientists are without exception a trip to behold.
As with any good horror story, the book touched a nerve. It made me think of when my babysitter swam me out to the middle of our pond and dropped me off. This was pre-kindergarten and I only knew how to swim in theory. Her boyfriend saved me. It was sketchy.
Tributary flashbacks aside, I recommend The Deep. Maybe wait to read it until after you’ve had your Covid vaccination though.