Book Review: The Swarm

By Frank Schatzing, 2006

Copyright © 2009 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published: 2009.12.01

Title: The Swarm
Author: Frank Schatzing
Subject: The ocean fights back against humanity
Genre: Fiction / Science Fiction / Horror
Publisher: ReganBooks (Harper Collins)

This was another really long book (880 pages), but it was a very fun read.

In theme, plot, and style, it reminds me of “alien invasion” stories, or a really complex natural disaster novel.

Right up front, I’ll warn you that Sally-Ann Spencer translated this from the original German text, and she did not translate it into American English. For all the similarities between the UK’s language and the U.S.’s language, there are a quite a few differences. Spencer apparently concentrated on those differences and at every opportunity used phrases or words that will leave American readers confused, rather than trying to find common ground between the two related languages.

Here’s an example:

What an American would say: “John checked his mail.”
What Spencer said: “John checked his post.”

She could have said: “John flipped through the stack of letters.”

And she rarely leaves enough context for the reader to get her meaning. The first three times I read “checked his post,” I pictured the character going outside and looking at a fence post or those tall poles that hold up electrical lines. This was a constant source of frustration for me.

There were other places where the text wasn’t entirely clear and I couldn’t tell if it was because of poor translation or a problem with the original German.

But this weakness in the novel was a small one; the story is amazing, and felt very unique and original.

Schatzing starts by introducing mild anomalies in humanity’s relationship with the ocean, the largest part of our world’s surface. A fisherman disappears, whales behave strangely, boats capsize, a strange breed of underwater worm is found. As he does so, he introduces his main characters one at a time.

Instead of non-stop action like you’d find in a Dan Brown novel, Schatzing follows the time-honored tradition of building to minor climaxes and then relaxing, with each climax larger and more scary than the one before. In between, he skillfully weaves in scientific facts, history, and beautiful descriptions of all the locales in the book.

Without giving away the story, I’ll point out that mankind has always had a love-hate relationship with the world’s oceans. For centuries, waterways were necessary to transport goods, passengers, and armies around the world, and of course, most of our planet’s oxygen is processed by the oceans, and the seas are our planet’s main temperature control system. If those systems begin failing to cooperate with us, we’re all in grave danger.

Schatzing uses his story-telling to remind the reader how little humanity actually knows about the ocean and the billions of species that inhabit it.

If there was an intelligent species under the surface of the ocean that could marshal the power of the seas against humanity, chaos would result. Thus, “The Swarm.”

For American readers accustomed to a final resolution — either complete victory or complete defeat — the ending might disappoint, but it seemed very realistic to me.

If you’re looking for a piece of unique fiction to spice up your reading habits, give “The Swarm” a try.

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