Writer Mira Grant – the pen name of UF author Seanan McGuire – deals with horror in many forms, but always without need for the excesses of blood and gore: the fear in her stories comes rather from plunging the reader into the thick of events whose buildup is carefully crafted. Rolling in the Deep is no exception, as is no exception my choice of one of her stories for my posts: it’s by now an open secret that she’s one of my favorite authors…
Mermaids have always been a fascinating subject, beautiful hybrids between woman and fish whose sweet song lured lonely, unwary sailors to their demise, although in more recent times they have been turned into cute creatures of animated movies, while the truth – if there is indeed a glimmer of truth in the legend – could be quite different. As one of the characters in this story says at some point: “We turned monsters into myths, and then we turned them into fairy tales. We dismissed the bad parts.”
Imagine Network is a TV channel dedicated to monster-of-the-week B-movies and older sci-fi classics that launches into a venture destined to diversify their programming with “realistic” documentaries on controversial subjects (the various ghost-hunting shows plaguing current television come immediately to mind…) and for the highly-publicized launch of this new course they sponsor a scientific cruise with the goal of confirming the existence of mermaids.
On board the ship Atargatis convene scientist and TV people for what seems a whimsical search: a few of the former are either looking for scientific confirmation or refutation of the theory, and others to make a name for themselves in their field no matter how outlandish the subject; while the latter seek of course to improve ratings for the network and to reach personal success and visibility. To insure that footage will show something to captivate the audience with, Imagine Network also enrolls a troupe of “professional mermaids”, women in costume who will provide some interesting film clips should all else fail.
The peculiar narrative choice of Rolling in the Deep comes from the blunt premise that the voyage of the Atargatis ended in mystery-shrouded tragedy, as testified by the quotes from the documentary created by Imagine Network on the crew’s disappearance, using the footage found aboard the empty vessel: evidently, not to be outdone by events, Imagine Network found a way to capitalize on the disaster and to draw a profit out of the expedition’s failure. So it comes as no surprise to the readers that none of the characters they come to know in the course of the story will make it through, but that hardly matters – in my opinion – because what truly does is the road leading to the catastrophe.
The section of the novella heading toward its horrifying climax is deceptively unexciting: we meet a number of people – scientist and TV cast and staff – and learn a little about them, as we do with the ship’s captain and some of her crewmen. The three groups start their uneasy cohabitation on board the Atargatis as the differences in their personalities and leanings are tested in the enclosed environment of a ship at sea, and on the surface it seems like uninteresting fare, but on hindsight it looks like a plot to lull the reader into a false sense of tedium, so that when the unthinkable happens, when “the clawed, webbed hand (lashes) out of the dark” they are caught by surprise just as much as the characters are.
And what a bloody, disturbing surprise it is…
From that point on, the story goes into a fractured, accelerated sequence of images, not unlike the found footage of some well-known horror movies, offering us swift glimpses of the carnage that happens aboard the Atargatis as the myth choses to move out of the depths where it had been hidden and comes to the surface, swift and merciless and totally efficient in its actions.
Thanks to fellow blogger Tammy, over at Books, Bones and Buffy, I’ve learned there will soon be a follow-up to this novella, and to say I’m quite curious to see where Mira Grant will lead us next would be a massive understatement, indeed.