The Set Up
Under 30,000 feet of water, the exploration rig Leaguer has discovered an oil field larger than Saudi Arabia, with oil so sweet and pure, nations would go to war for the rights to it. But as the team starts drilling exploration well after exploration well in their race to claim the sweet crude, a deep rumbling beneath the ocean floor shakes them all to their core. Something has been living in the oil and it’s about to give birth to the greatest threat humanity has ever seen.
“The Black” is a techno/horror-thriller that puts the horror and action of movies such as Leviathan and The Thing right into readers’ hands. Ocean exploration will never be the same.”
I’ve been a regular listener of the Dead Robots’ Society podcast for a few years now, and thoroughly enjoy listening to “the boys” discussing their writing and the writing world in general every week. After listening for so long, I decided I really needed to at least make an effort to try out some of the hosts stories. For Paul, I snagged The Black during a 99 cent sale last year after having it heard mentioned so often and it seeming to be more up my alley versus his Children of Garaaga series (and the shudderfest that is Mimes).
I read the first few chapters April 4th, then a bit more on the 10th (up to roughly the 20% mark on the Kindle). At that point, I was thinking it was pretty good and I was really enjoying the set up. It felt like a great set up in a high-end B-monster shark-type movie, which I am a huge fan of.
Then on the 11th, I picked up reading it again, planning to just read an hour or so before bed. Except in that hour, I hit the half way point…and I. Could. Not. Stop!!! I ended up staying up until 1:30 am on a work night finishing it, because The Black and grabbed hold and was not letting me go until the end.
I’d figured Paul was excellent writer, just from what I’d heard on the show, but holy cow. The Black is just amazeballs! Seriously, even if you don’t like horror in general, like me, I’d recommend giving this one a try. It has some nice suspense and “the Black” is creepy as heck, but it isn’t nightmare inducing (unless perhaps you work on oil rigs).
The novel features a fairly good size cast of regular characters, split into roughly two divisions. Calhoun and his team of three are the “outsides” on the rig, the experts in the equipment and very good at their job, but having to deal with knowing they are unwanted. As their leader, Calhoun regularly has to run interference between them and the rig chief Vraebel, who dislikes having people on his rig he didn’t personally pick, but also understands the politics of having to play nice with the company’s current favorite expert.
Overall, I found all of the main characters were well set up and established, their dynamics established with a great blend of short bursts of back story interlaced with their interactions with one another. The easy banter between Shawna, Catfish, and Calhoun showed the length and breath of their friendship without heavy exposition. The deep trust Vraebel had for his friend Gomez was also very clear without it having to be repeatedly hammered home in exposition.
The Black is well-paced, with the first third or so doing a great job of setting up the situation and the characters and getting the reader familiar with the rig and setting while hinting at the issues to come. When things go the hell in a hand-basket, the pace ramps up appropriately, keeping you along for the ride with only the barest minimum of breaks along the way, much like the characters are dealing with.
If I had any negative remarks to make about The Black it would be that there were a few places where I was momentarily confused because how a character was referenced in the prose flipped. For example, in a few scenes from Varabel’s point-of-view, he flipped between referring to Calhoun as Calhoun and Thomas within the same paragraph. I’d gotten so used to Calhoun being Calhoun that’d I’d forgotten his first name and had to flip back to figure out who Thomas was. The same happened with “Catfish” Standlee, JP Harvey, and Steve Gomez. The latter to in particular took a little extra remembering because they were only rarely called Harvey and Steve (respectively).
Suffice to say, though, that minor quibble didn’t put me off much and other than I loved this novel and I’m looking forward to reading its paraquel, The Black: The Arrival, which I already have loaded on my Kindle app. But first, I’m gonna go release Paul’s recently posted article at VexMosaic on “The Science of The Black”!
Rating: 5/5 stars