Sunday, August 16, 2015

Creatures of the Abyss, by Murray Leinster

Another book that can easily be found in audio format on Librivox and YouTube, Creatures of the Abyss (also known as The Listeners), by Murray Leinster, is a slow mid 20th century sci-fi that reads as a cross between Jules Verne, H. P. Lovecraft and one of those books about people drinking and falling in love on boats in South America. More Verne, though.

The thing that made me continue listening to it was its way of depicting the mentality from back then. Written in 1961, it tells a story of people who, faced with extraordinary circumstances, first evade formulating a theory in their own head, for fear of contravening their own set view of the world, then - forced by events - they do allow themselves to formulate a theory, but keep it to themselves for fear of ridicule, even when they see other people considering the same things, then they proceed to test those theories by themselves and only then share them with others. Compared with the modern culture of sharing half formed thoughts before they can constitute complete phrases, it is quite different. It is also fun to read about people that think Venus is a large ocean planet, as is Jupiter, with a gravity four times that of Earth.

However, while it was interesting in a sociological way and good as a background for other activities, its slow pace might feel excruciating for the casual reader. More than half of it is more about boats and sailing and catching fish. The science fiction part is slowly creeping into the story and the climax is in the last chapter alone. Maybe my association of the book with Lovecraft is strained, as the only commonality is touching on tentacled abyssal creatures that might appear disturbing to human sensibilities and certainly the elements of horror are very rare in Creatures of the Abyss. The book does feel more real, though, as it goes through this slow process of examination of evidence and formulating hypotheses and testing them before jumping to conclusions. It depicts the beginning of the modern era of scientific thought, back when it was respectable and desirable to be thinking like that.

Bottom line: Slow paced, but very well written, you should at least try it, since it is so readily available. You can even listen to it right here, on this post.