cover image A Darkling Sea

A Darkling Sea

James L. Cambias. Tor, $25.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3627-9

In Cambias’s vivid hard SF debut, humans land on the oceanic world of Ilmatar to study its indigenous population of intelligent aquatic creatures. The Terran scientists successfully avoid contact until a “shameless media whore” secretly films the Ilmatarans, resulting in disastrous first interactions. The incident leads to the appearance of a second alien race, the hairless, six-limbed Sholen, who arrive on Ilmatar ostensibly to identify the cause of the unfortunate inter-species encounter and prevent further mishaps. Opinion on the Sholen home world regarding “the Terran problem” is divided—some wish to avoid any involvement while others want to ensure that humanity is confined to Earth—and that debate plays out on Ilmatar in a satisfying blend of political intrigue, military posturing, and shifting alliances. Cambias paints imaginative, convincing portraits of the Ilmatarans, who struggle to impose order on their primitive and violent agrarian society, and the Sholen, whose self-identification as “compassionate” and “nurturing” masks a capacity for savagery. Cambias writes with a light touch and occasional flashes of humor, and the science supporting his novel is sound and unobtrusive. This is an impressive debut by a gifted writer. (Feb.)