A Meg’s Tale

June 10, 2013 1:28 pm

My last article dealt with the Titanic, and how it’s place in history has served as a beacon for those fascinated with it’s fate and the deep oceans, within part of which it now rests.  This fascination with the deep oceans in particular has led to artists of all kinds exploring it’s depths to dredge up new stories, and one author in particular dove down further than most in pursuit of a good story.  And a shark…a really BIG shark.

“Meg” by Steve Alten is a rip-roaring tale of high adventure, action, and interesting characters.  Although something of an “airport” novel in that it does move incredibly fast, and reads more like a Hollywood blockbuster than perhaps something of high literature, I loved it, and found the scenario an incredibly interesting one that appeals to the creature and history lover in me.

Megalodon

The story itself concerns an ex-naval pilot, Jonas, who finds himself face to face with a relic of the ancient past: The Megalodon.  The shark is the largest to have ever existed, weighing some thirty-five tons and measuring about seventy feet in length, and as Alten often refers to in the novel, is perhaps the ultimate carnivore to have ever existed.  Think “Jaws” on steroids.

Indeed this label is proven in the fantastic opening sequence of the novel, one which pits one of the greatest known predators of all time against another, and really sets the tone for the set pieces we’ll come to see in the book, which themselves almost read like they were tailor made for a Hollywood blockbuster.

The proposal that Alten sets forth is that members of the species of shark somehow survived from their extinction point, some 10,000 years ago when ocean temperatures cooled, and used deep ocean trenches to do so.  Down there, the temperature is higher, due to closer proximity to the Earth’s crust and black smoker’s.  It’s a cool idea and one Alten uses to great effect to justify sending our hero down into the Mariana Trench – the deepest trench of all – in order to retrieve an earthquake sensor, which has been damaged as a result of the Meg’s actions.

Jonas has been brought in to inspect these sensors which have been placed down there by Masao, a wealthy businessman and the father of Tania – Jonas’s love interest.  He has dreams of building a huge lagoon within which to study whales, which goes on to play a crucial role in the sequel “The Trench”.  In this it’s more a plot device to justify the building of the sensors, which Masao builds under contract in order to fund said lagoon.

The chase sequence that ensues within the trench and the first encounter with the Meg is spectacular (and tragic), ultimately leading to it’s escape from the deep depths, and a rather nasty headache for not only the humans on the surface but the whales which then become it’s primary food source.

The rest of the story is basically one huge cat-and-mouse game between the Meg and it’s hunters, who scour the lengths of the Pacific in order to bring it down, taking in one some spectacular set pieces, including a surfing event in Hawaii gone wrong, and a sequence that takes the idea of the Shark cage to a new level.  This sequence involves Jonas’s wife, Maggie, who becomes the defacto human villain in the story, and who is given no real depth except to justify her being an incredible bitch.  The sequence itself then kickstart other events in the story which eventually leads to the huge climax, where mass-carnage and destruction is guaranteed.

Threaded throughout all of this is Jonas’s own fear of the Meg, and the repercussions of an action involving it and a deep ocean dive he performed many years back, and how they have served to fuel his nightmares ever since.  It provides a nice character arc for him, as he must ultimately overcome his fear and relinquish his own guilt over actions that ultimately weren’t his fault, and the product of higher-ups who seek to place the blame anywhere but where it solely belongs.

The rest of the characters often merely serve to drive the plot along, although Jonas’s relationship with his buddy Mac, a washed out Navy pilot who runs dodgy missions in the Pacific on the side, is entertaining and endearingly drawn, with a humorous banter between them that serves to lighten things up when they look grimmest.

Jonas’s relationship with Tania is also nicely drawn for the most part, and their transformation from bickering frenemies to lovers is interestingly if predictably drawn, with Tania’s quest for vengeance against the Meg never ultimately going anywhere, especially when the book moves at such a tremendous speed.  Indeed the pace of the book is so strong and forward-thrusting that those wishing to take their time with a story and it’s characters – to savour the details, might find this wanting, but for me it provided the perfect escape, and did what it said on the tin ultimately.

And with a novel about a prehistoric shark returned from hibernation to wreak Jaw’s style havoc on the modern day world, what else would you expect?

Certainly not “War and Peace”…

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