Readers approaching Greig Beck’s Fathomless anticipating a fast-paced underwater adventure featuring intrepid explorers, cutting-edge technology, and antediluvian creatures of every description are in for a surprise. For the price of one such exploit—well conceived and solidly executed—they receive two.
Fathomless divides neatly into two parts. Catherine Granger, an evolutionary biologist at Stanford University is doubly excited when new NASA satellite data reveals hitherto unknown information about a small island off the west coast of Alaska—the location where her grandfather disappeared some six decades before. Following up on the lead, and with funding by an eccentric Russian émigré billionaire, Cate and her team begin systematically exploring an enormous underground sea, known by generations of native Nantouk as the “Bad Water.”
While it is clear that Granger is searching for evidence of her grandfather’s earlier research, she is also looking for an answer to a more immediate puzzle: what had destroyed their initial probe into the unknown waters. As she and her crew navigate their submarine through the Bad Water, they come upon creatures long considered extinct—and for a while, the story becomes a brief history of ancient sea life. Then abruptly, crisis follows upon crisis, they crew finds themselves trapped in a hostile world that disappeared from the surface millions of years before; they apparently have no way out, and—lest that be catastrophic enough—they are being stalked by the deadliest predator the earth has ever produced, Carcharodon megalodon, the dinosaur shark, ancestor of the modern great white shark, and apex predator of apex predators.
A remnant of Cate’s team finally discovers a way to the surface, and for several months she and her lover, Jack Monroe, try to forget their harrowing exploits in the Bad Water—until evidence emerges that the same act of treachery that nearly condemned them to death released a living Carcharodon megalodon into the surface oceans. It is monstrously large, female, and—we eventually discover—pregnant. What is at stake, should the shark give birth, is literally the ability of the human race to navigate the oceans. Cate and Jack join forces with a Coast Guard officer to hunt down and destroy the creature. But as with their earlier voyage, complications arise that threaten them and the world they live in.
Fathomless parallels Steve Alten’s Meg novels in many ways—almost inevitably since they begin at a similar starting point: the survival of archaic life forms in today’s oceans. Beck handles the material with a freshness that stems from his taking the opportunity to introduce other ancient yet alien-seeming characters into his story; and alongside aquatic monsters, he places human monsters stimulated by greed, by thirst for revenge, and by woefully misplaced idealism, whose actions are ultimately nearly as threatening as the Carcharadon’s. The various threads blend to give Fathomless a sense of inevitability, even as individual events surprise and engage. It is a fun novel, appealing on multiple levels, that never lets us forget that, that while we vaunt our knowledge of earth and sky, the depths beneath us remain mysterious, secretive, and unfathomable.