Science fiction under the sea

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It’s been said before, and it’ll be said again. There’s some awesome sci-fi to be had under the sea.


The future is singing crabs

If you, like me, mostly read the news for cool story ideas, then you may have noticed a couple of recent pieces about underwater resources. First came the UN’s announcement of plans to manage seabed minerals. Then came the discovery of new antibiotics off the coast of California. This is exciting stuff. Not only are we as humanity starting to pull bad-ass scientific breakthroughs out of the ocean, but we’re also trying to prevent this turning into an ugly free-for-all. I’m not saying we’ll get it right, but we’re trying, and things like that make me proud to be human.

This is my proud face. Well done mankind.
This is my proud face. Well done mankind.

But like I said, I was mostly reading this for the story ideas, and others have been there before me. There’s a small but tasty selection of sci-fi that substitutes the ocean depths for space as the place where humanity meets its future. From John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes to Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim, monsters have been emerging from the deep for decades. Then there’s the more hopeful stuff, like Seaquest DSV. Remember that show? It was Star Trek with a dolphin, and yet somehow it sank without a trace.

Sometimes space and seas have even been combined, for an ultimate combo of sci-fi mystery, as in Warren Ellis and Chris Sprouse’s Ocean. In this a team of scientists discover something beneath the ice of a moon of Jupiter. It’s a Warren Ellis comic, so of course that something isn’t friendly, and the humans involved don’t handle it well. But as a Warren Ellis comic it’s also exciting and scattered with good dialogue.

Because lets face it, our approach to the ocean isn’t always that innovative. Wyndham used it as the source of his latest disaster, because that was his shtick. Ellis crammed it with crazy concepts and snarky dialogue, because that’s his. Del Toro filled it with old Japanese monster movies because, though that may not be his particular shtick, crazy visual genius is, and visuals don’t get much crazier than a robot hitting a monster with a cargo ship.

'Don't make me take this bridge upside your head'
‘Don’t make me take this bridge upside your head’

This isn’t to say that we can’t get something new out of exploring the oceans. Most creativity comes from taking existing things and fusing them together like atoms in a literary reactor. And as real science dives deeper into the depths, it’ll bring back a rich haul of ideas for us to misunderstand, misrepresent and wildly speculate about.

More powerfully, as the seas start to fill our headlines, sci-fi set in them will feel more real. With the space race dead, the concept of men exploring the universe feels less immediate, less connected to our reality. Sci-fi set there loses some of its ripped-from-the-headlines immediacy. Maybe the sea can fill that gap.

I’ve rambled all around this topic, so now over to you. What do you think? Are you excited by the prospect of deep sea sci-fi? Have you seen it appearing in fantasy or horror? Can you think of cool examples I haven’t mentioned, either from the news or from popular culture? Go explore the depths, and bring back riches to the comments below.

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Andrew Knighton

Andrew Knighton is an author of speculative and historical fiction, including comics, short stories, and novels. A freelance writer and a keen gamer, he lives in Yorkshire with a cat, an academic, and a big pile of books. His work has been published by Top Cow, Commando Comics, and Daily Science Fiction, and he has ghostwritten over forty novels in a variety of genres. His latest novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, is out now from Luna Press Publishing.