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A Darkling Sea Hardcover – January 28, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (January 28, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765336278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765336279
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #473,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Strongly reminiscent of Robert Silverberg from the late 1960s and early 1970s, this SF novel is set on a distant world, Ilmatar, whose native species are being studied by human scientists. The Sholen, the dominant alien species in that area of space, have allowed the humans access to Ilmatar, but under strict rules, which include the requirement that they absolutely must not have any contact with its sea-dwelling residents. When a human gets too close to a group of Ilmatarans and is killed by them, the Sholen send a team of investigators to the planet; the incident not only threatens the diplomatic relations between humans and the Sholen but also could lead to all-out war. The author tells the story through the eyes of three characters: Rob, a member of the human exploration team and witness to the incident; Broadtail, an Ilmataran who has been declared an exile from his community after he took the life of another Ilmataran; and Tizhos, an unconventional Sholen who’s concerned the incident will cause her government to shut down all contact with Ilmatar. Like Silverberg, who developed fully realized alien societies in such novels as Downward to the Earth (to which this novel bears some thematic resemblance), Cambias makes the Sholen and Ilmataran people and cultures as real as the more familiar human component. Beautifully written, with a story that captures the imagination the way SF should. --David Pitt

Review

"An impressive debut by a gifted writer."
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

"An exceptionally thoughtful, searching and intriguing debut."
Kirkus, Starred Review

"Like Silverberg, who developed fully realized alien societies in such novels as Downward to the Earth (to which this novel bears some thematic resemblance), Cambias makes the Sholen and Ilmataran people and cultures as real as the more familiar human component. Beautifully written, with a story that captures the imagination the way SF should."
Booklist, Starred Review

“A stunning debut! Alien races to rival Larry Niven, world-building to rival Hal Clement, and lots of rip-roaring adventure. James Cambias will be one of the century's major names in hard science fiction.”
—Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues

“Fast-paced, pure quill hard science fiction.... Cambias delivers adroit plot pivots that keep the suspense coming.”
—Gregory Benford, Nebula Award-winning author of Timescape

“This is great fun—traditional science fiction but with today's science. And I love the aliens.”
—Jo Walton, Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award-winning author of Among Others

“The best story about an alien race and its environment that I've read in a long time. Cambias is in the same league as Hal Clement.”
—Vernor Vinge, Hugo Award-winning author of A Fire Upon the Deep

“Cambias's exploration of truly alien politics is fast, fun, and packed with characters you'll cheer for. It's exciting to welcome an exuberant new voice to the ranks of hard science fiction!”

—Karl Schroeder, author of Ventus


“A compelling read.”

—Michael Flynn, author of On the Razor’s Edge

“A fascinating exploration of alien lives at the extreme edges of an alien world.”
—Brenda Cooper, award-winning author of The Silver Ship and the Sea

 

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on January 28, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The Ilmatarans inhabit Ilmatar, naturally enough, but since they live on the sea bottom, having evolved where volcanic vents warm the water far below the ice-covered surface, it isn't easy to observe them. An attempt to do so leads to an inadvertent first contact between a human and a group of Ilmataran scientists. It doesn't go well for the poor human, who is mistaken for a big fish. But just when you think this is a book about humans and intelligent crustaceans, aliens from Shalina show up. This isn't a first contact; humans and the Sholen are parties to treaties that govern places like Ilmatar and the Sholen are ostensibly present to investigate the human's inadvertent (and potentially treaty-breaking) contact. In truth, a political faction of the Sholen would like to restrict humans to Earth where their meddlesome ways will not trouble the rest of the universe and they intend to eject the human scientists from Ilmatar. Conflict ensues.

James Cambias gave some intelligent thought to the Ilmatarans' social structure and legal system. He imagines how books might be constructed that can be read underwater, how farms might operate, how sound becomes a weapon when wielded by or against a race that depends on sonar, how apprentices might be gained by capturing the young and forcing them to be educated. The Sholen are described in less detail. We know that they are stocky and have extra limbs and breathe oxygen but we don't know much else. Not much differentiates the Sholen from humans, although their social structure is even more dependent on sex and drugs than human societies -- yet the Sholen are not as fun as you'd think those traits would make them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Daniel E. Cureton on February 17, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Picked this up in thew new Sci Fi section of the book store. Normally I don't like to buy it at book stores, would rather shop online. But I decided to give this one a chance since it was one of the very few not in a series and was the debut book by the author. Also though the cover art was pretty sweet.

I'm glad I did. I loved it! It was a refreshing read and page turner. I found myself thinking about reading it all day when i was working and what would come next in the lives of the Ilmatarans, the native inhabitants which are sort of like lobsters on Ilmatar, a moon with an ocean orbiting a gas giant. Humans are studying them from afar. Another alien species, the Sholen show up when a human gets killed by curious Ilmataran scientist who think they're a new type of fish. The Sholen want the humans gone, they resist and get the help of the Ilmatarans. You get to see how humans develop a communication with the Illmatarans by using the Illmatarans number (like Morse) code taps since humans can't mimic the sounds of speech.

It set a nice pace and was very good at creating a nice visual of what was happening in the story. It wasn't too far out from conventional sci fi, but was far enough to create a whole new experience in an area that isn't really explored (underwater alien oceans). The characters are seen having good developments and relationships with each other, and you do get a background and feel that the characters are changing and growing with the story. I enjoyed that it focused a lot on the Illmatarans community and story and how the humans interacted instead of how humans and Sholen were changing the Illmatarans (which Sholen wanted a no contact rule).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Henry L. Lazarus on January 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
James Cambias takes us to a deep sea lab on the planet Ilmatar; a Ceres like world covered with ice with a deep ocean where intelligent beings see with sonar. The Human expedition has been prevented from any interaction by the more Powerful Sholen, a species that has blown themselves to the stone age four times and will do anything to prevent other species from doing the same thing. In A Darkling Sea (hard from Tor) one of the researchers, an adventurer who sells his adventures, comes too close to the Ilmatarans in a stealth suit, they dissect him. That’s the trigger the Sholens need and their powerful ship arrives to remove the human expedition. Passive resistence turns active, andthen to guerrilla war aided by the Ilmatarans. Mr. Cambias has a nice ear for cultural differences and nicely has very few actual villains. This is a tale I would nominate for an award. It’s an amazing look at interspecies interaction that feels very real. Review published in the Philadelphia Weekly Press
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ken Schneyer on May 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
If you ever needed convincing that structures of language influence thought and theme, this novel will do it. Cambias's undersea Ilmatarans speak and think only in the present tense. They are *aware* of the past and the future, but only as constructs in the mind. Thus, an Ilmataran will never say "I walked," but rather "I remember walking," will never say "He will fight," but rather "I imagine him fighting." In this way, Cambias highlights that past and future are not real in the same way as the present, but exist simply in our heads. In its own way, this strategic use of grammar is just as subversive and revolutionary as Anne Leckie's use of gender pronouns in Ancillary Justice.

The Ilmatarans are blind as well, sensing their world through taste, tactile feeling and, most importantly, hearing. This perception too Cambias handles with rigor and intelligence, and makes us reimagine our own perceptions of the world.

This is an adventure of the Scientist As Hero, except here it's the Scientist As Hero Times Three. There are three narrative threads focusing on three different protagonists from three different species, and in each of them it is the scientific impulse -- the urge to know, to understand, to analyze -- that is celebrated. For someone like me, that's very satisfying.

Readers with politics like mine (that is, on the left) may find certain aspects of this book a bit irritating, but not obtrusively so. Those aspects are interwoven with well-considered explorations of cultural misunderstanding and the uses of power.

Highly recommended.
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