When a plane crashes into the Antarctic ice, exposing a massive cave beneath, a rescue and research team is dispatched. Twenty-four hours later, all contact is lost. Captain Alex Hunter and his highly trained squad of commandos are fast tracked to the hot zone to find out what went wrong - and to follow up the detection of a vast underground reservoir. Accompanying the team is an assortment of researchers, including petrobiologist Aimee Weir. If the unidentified substance proves to be an energy source, every country in the world will want to know about it - some would even kill for it. Once inserted into the cave system, they don't find any survivors - not even a trace of their bodies. Primeval hieroglyphs hint at an ancient civilisation, and an ancient danger. Spectres of the dead haunt the tunnels. Within hours, one of the party will die. To bring his team out alive, Alex will need every one of his mysterious abilities beneath the dark ice.
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I'm not going to deal with the plot. It's too painful. Let's talk characters instead. Every character in this book suffers a truly massive case of HCSS (Horror Character Stupid Syndrome); the book is a textbook example of Roger Ebert’s "Idiot Plot" (defined as any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots). Case in point: all through the book, characters have watched a number of friends/colleagues get sliced, diced, & devoured by the Giant Primordial Squid. The GPS suckers (ha!) in the victims by using its Dead Friend Decoys, which it creates using tentacles which have the ability to swell up into lookalikes of the people it’s eaten. Near the end, one character had to be left behind for a while, all alone in the dark with the monster, pretty much guaranteed to get eaten. The gang eventually goes back into the cave & they see the stranded woman standing in the dimness, blank-faced, mute, animated as a stuffed moose, looking exactly like a brainless fake. Does the gang say “Oh no, she got eaten, it’s a decoy! Run away!” Do they hell: “Gasp! She’s alive!” And two of them run to her and give her a big hug. Slurp! I don’t consider this a spoiler because my turtle could see this coming and was not surprised.
The characters are so two-dimensional they’re not even good stereotypes. We have:
The Super Soldier who, through no fault of his own, has been transformed into Something Beyond Human, so of course no one could possibly love him and he’ll never get to know love again, like he had with She Who Had to Be Left Behind. Does he find love with the Super Smart Scientist Girl (who can somehow see past his cool exterior to the warm yet damaged, hidden heart within)? No points for guessing correctly.
The Evil, Greedy Yet Banal Scientist: For anyone old enough (or unlucky enough in reruns) to see the original “Lost in Space” TV series, this guy is more obnoxious & fingernails-on-chalkboard irritating than Dr Smith. What’s even harder to believe is the response of the other characters to this guy: he’s sneeringly condescending, insulting, nagging, nit-picking, tantrum-throwing, sexual-pass-oozing, & power-tripping throughout the book. He repeatedly insists upon moving the whole bunch ever-deeper into the cave so that they end up serving themselves as sequential meal courses for the monster, in order to demonstrate his ‘revolutionary’ machine and make mega-bucks for himself. But everyone treats him with incredible patience and forbearance; nobody even snaps at the guy, making then all immediate candidates for sainthood in my book.
The Super Smart Scientist Girl: …I can’t go on. You can fill in the blanks.
The science in this book is beyond ridiculous. I know it’s fiction so the author gets to make stuff up. I discovered –and have loved-- science fiction since I was 9. But these compressed-air-bullet weapons are real doozies. Not solid projectiles powered by air. These guns fire adjustable-sized….wads…of compressed air that shoot through ambient air (without dissipating) & impact things just like bullets. As if you could call forth your inner mime & pretend to make a snowball, pack it down tight, throw your pretend-air ball at a window & watch the shards fly! Just like that, only at bullet speeds. Sorry, not even my disbelief suspension mechanism is up to that.
(Well, just goes to show how little I know. There is an actual picture of a biological version of this weapon, Shukaku expelling an air bullet, at the Naruto wiki, under Drilling Air Bullet Harbour Blow. The technique is explained quite simply, under Drilling Air Bullet. It's so obvious --the amount of chakra makes them powerful-- I'm surprised I didn't think of it.)
The size of the monster is another issue: it’s variously compared to a blue whale (90-100 ft) and a 747 (184- 250 feet, depending on the model) sized. Apparently not even the author knows out how big the thing is.
Small peeve; (but really, the book is so bad it begs griping at minutiae): the reader pronounces “debris” as “DEB-ree” which would be irritating enough, but evidently it’s the author’s favorite word. It was used more than 14 times in a little over 2 hours. When I start counting things, I KNOW an audiobook is irretrievably awful.
A much, much better biological SF/thriller is “Fragment,” by Warren Fahy it’s got better science AND is more exciting, has better characters, writing, etc. Better read, too. There are times in “Fragment” when the scientific explanations may be somewhat overwhelming to the non-scientist, but even if you zone out in those small spots the book is a decent page-turner and, at times, a lot of fun.
Step away from "Beneath the Dark Ice" and put down your wallet. You will regret the lost money and time.
The Antarctic is all the rage for suspense stories these days, and this offering is one of the better ones. Abit gory at times, but overall a deft action/adventure/fantasy all wrapped up into one icy concept. Need more than a small amount of belief suspension, but overall an entertaining piece of suspense. The James Rollins appreciators will get this one !