Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I like to see an author stretch himself, and stretching is what Paul Elard Cooley* is doing with his latest novel, his deep sea thriller The Black. On the surface an ocean-borne monster tale that has been described as Peter Benchley meets H.P. Lovecraft, The Black has more going on than just watching well-constructed characters getting et by a monster.

For starters, The Black has rather a unique setting -- a deep sea petroleum exploration platform, where roughnecks spend months at a time working hard and getting smelly, far from their families or anything like civilization. This particular platform is a locus of unusual excitement even before the horror elements set in: it's potentially on top of an oil find so big that it might allow the U.S. to tell the Middle East to pound sand.

Enter a crew of specialists, experts in fields like robotics and petroleum geology and ways to use the former to improve our understanding of the latter. They fit in poorly on the rig (even the ones who are not -- gasp -- women), and the tension between them and the roughnecks gives the novel a greater depth and substance than people usually go looking for in monster stories. Some readers have apparently complained of this a bit, but I find it only makes me care about the characters all the more when the excrement hits the air conditioning, as it does.

Oh, it does.

Cooley has also gone to the extraordinary trouble of creating a wholly new monster. I joked on twitter early on that oh, no, the robots were about to shave Cthulhu, but I was dead wrong. As it were. Actually, I'm still trying to sort out what matter of entity is disturbed to the characters' peril. It's not just big and black and aquatic; its biology is utterly alien (especially if I'm correctly understanding that what is causing most of the trouble in the exciting second half of the novel is pretty much just the entity's blood? lymph? anyway, some kind of body fluid), as is its level of sentience. And, spoiler alert, the mystery is maintained to the very end, but not without satisfying the reader's need for, you know, an ending.

I look forward most eagerly to its sequel, which promises to broaden the greater story's scope and threat, just as Cooley's pal (and mine) Scott Sigler's Infected trilogy did. Yowza. I just can't wait to find out what the Snape this entity/creature/thing IS!!!

*Reviewer's note: Cooley is a personal friend, so, you know, bias alert. But if I don't like a friend's books, I don't write about them. And if you haven't noticed by now, I'm a pretty demanding reader so, you know, don't let the bias alert scare you off, mmmkay?