on 15 April 2007
This book was a surprise bestseller in Germany and the paperback verison I got for Christmas was already the 10th reprint edition within a year. So I took it on a one week holiday in January and despite the 700 densely packed pages it ran out well before the return flight. This is not only a riveting read ala Michael Chrichton it is also an introduction into a huge number of current scientific theories that are brought across with both ease and depth alike. Not only will you be turning the pages to find out how the story unfolds you will also learn a great deal about marine biology, geology, genetecis, intelligence theory and numerous other scientific advances without actually realising it on the go. This is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend to anyone and when the next holiday comes along I might just read it again...
on 31 July 2007
I have seldom been so torn in the review of a book. In retrospect i have so many fond memories of this, and yet at the same time i remember the long periods of time when i simply couldn't be bothered picking it up to read because the narrative was flailing and little seemed to be happening. The opening part of the book is simply stunning, i don't deny. Some of the (for want of a better description) set-pieces involving whales and zebra mussels are simply excellent and some of the ideas brought into the novel throughout reflect this early enthusiastic and imaginative approach to the "monster movie" plot. Some of the characters are nice and believable, and each has their own personal demons to contend with, which makes the mix that little bit more exciting.
Scientifically the plot seems sound; i don't claim to know much about the genetics of amoebae, but i do know a fair whack about whales, dolphins and other denizens of the sea (I'm a Marine Biologist). I wasn't expecting a scientific account with no holes, i was expecting a Jurassic Park-esque almost-believable story, and thats near enough what i got.
The novel fails, however, on three counts. One; the middle section. Not much happens for a great deal and unless you're on a flight or have a particularly nice sunny day for some outdoor reading, or have a great deal of time (none of which befalls a marine biologist masters student in Scotland) then its difficult to battle through the lull in the pace. Two: the ending. Too complicated for its own good, it would have been easier to flunk for something less scientific and less confusing. However, it's original, i'll give it that. Three; the wish / desire to be the monster movie its alluded to be. I love reading novels and picturing my favourite actors in various roles, etc. It helps me visualise the action. So i don't lke it when the author tells you who his characters look like. Maximillian Schnell, Jodie Foster, to name a few, get name dropped, just in case the reader was having difficulty picturing their characters. Plus, in the same vein, the plot (or rather, confusing elements of the plot) are explained by using examples from other movies. To this end, The Abyss and Contact are referenced. There is simply no need for this. The reader should be able to use thier own imagination / intelligence to understand whats going on.
However, the reason it does manage 3 stars is that there ARE some truly spectacular moments; the global disaster half way through being a good example.
I fight to decide whether i actually recommend this or not. Its a bit of a struggle for non-committed readers to keep returning to, but where it is good it really does excel.
on 15 June 2012
If you like Frank Schätzing you will surely enjoy this book. It has the same writing style as `death and the devil'. The story is completely different but I think that in this book the author surpasses himself. It is so incredibly surprising that you will not believe your eyes.
The author is able to create great suspense until the middle of the book and only after that you start to discover something. The plot is really intricate, the story is written with a very cleaver touch. Every character has their own story. Only in the end the characters meet together and the plot thickens.
This book is more than a simple sci-fi book; the author critiques modern society that is ruining nature and our world. It lets you think about yourself, history and the role of the religion in this world.
If you like to read short books or you read rarely this is not the kind of book for you!
Warning: it's addictive!
on 22 March 2006
I have read this book in German. Even though the theme of deep sea science does not match my usual fields of interest I simply could not put the book down and I read it as fast as no book in the recent past. The plot is intelligent, extremely well researched (as I found out after watching a documentary on this book and author on German television) and reasonably plausible. The story is gripping, the characters compelling. I was also astonished to find out that most of the leading scientists mentioned in this book are real people and experts on the field of deep sea exploration and that Frank Schätzing extensively conferred with them during his researches.
I can highly recommend this book to anyone, even outside the Sci-Fi community.
on 27 December 2011
The main thing that I got out of this novel is a hernia... only joking but it really is a heavy book....
The worlds oceans are starting to turn against us land lubbers, and we see an array of creatures attacking mankind and its machinery. We encounter worms, crabs, jellyfish, whales & algae all out with a vengeance. We don't know why or how, but the resulting plagues, tsunamis and deaths mean we have to find out, and sharpish!
Colonel Li is assigned with putting together a team of scientists in order to safeguard the very future of the Human race, but is it too little too late? Luke Anawak is a marine biologist, a specialist in the field of whale intelligence, Jack `Greywolf' Bannon is an ex navy seal with a passion for animal rights, whilst Sigor Johanson is a leading expert in invertebrates under the sea. Accompanied by various others they must first find the cause of the uprising and then the solution.
This is a book of mammoth proportions, at times it seemed like almost a cross between Peter Benchley and Steven King. The only thing that stopped me giving the book 5 stars was that at times it was a little too preachy. We are all aware that the oceans are being polluted but an essay on the subject every dozen pages wasn't all that necessary. Despite its size the book held my interest throughout with a large number of characters with well rounded personalities.
Would I recommend it? Probably.
Would I reread it? Probably not.
Am I glad I read it? Definitely.
on 7 May 2007
I was given this as a present and I wasn't expecting too much from it, but from the get-go I found it involving and well-written, with little evidence of it being a translation.
Mr. Kus's review is about spot-on, so I won't repeat what he's said. Suffice it to say I'd wholeheartedly recommend it: this really is a cut above most thrillers, and is fantastically topical, highly intelligent, and very exciting.
on 24 March 2010
I will be unbiased and say my boyfriend thought this was bit long winded with lots of somewhat unnecessary (if you know a little bit about science/internet etc) explanations and scientific background. But I happen to love that. I love it when Michael Crichton does it and I love it here. You really feel like you learn something at the same time. Its also hugely entertaining though, I love environmental disasters, and despite its heft I have read it 3 times.
on 17 August 2010
Advantages: Clever ideas; lots of scientific info
Disadvantages: Not an easy read; huge book; inconsistent pace
This book is considered one of Germany's biggest modern best-sellers and it has sold over 2 million copies in its original German (Der Schwarm). It has received praise by - among others - Der Spiegel, Financial Times, Stern and notably a Biology Professor at UCL.
Something is going terribly wrong with sea creatures. Normally peaceful species are attacking fishermen and ships, huge jelly-fish become more aggressive and fatal, weird species are appearing. The two main characters, Sigur Johanson, a marine biologist and professor at a Norway University, and Dr Leon Anawak, an Inuit who tries to forget his origins and works with whales at Vancouver, are among the first to observe the strange phenomena, and later work with an international team of scientists to try and find a solution.
The book also has a plethora of secondary characters, namely Tina Land, who works for the oil company 'Statoil', the student Alicia Delaware, the activist Jack 'Greywolf' O'Bannon, Dr Gerhard Brohmann, Major Salomon Peak, the journalist Karen Weaver, General Commander Judith Li, Dr Samantha Crowe, Murray Shankar, Sue Oliviera, Berman Roche, Jack Vanderbilt, and Luther Roscovitz, to name some.
We could call this type of book an 'eco-thriller'. The book has a prologue, five parts and an epilogue. The chapters are arranged in a temporal order (e.g. "12 April") with spatial sub-sections and headings (e.g. "Trondheim, Norway").
The writer has done a lot of research on the topics of marine biology and deep sea oil extraction, and he makes sure we know it by a long list of acknowledgements which includes many scientists. As a result, he grasps every opportunity to fill the book with facts or factoids. The advantage is that you actually learn quite a bit that way and the science backs up his fictional parts making them more believable. The disadvantage is that you end up feeling you are attending a university lecture instead of reading a fictional thriller. Not all the characters are equally developed and many of them behave and sound like living encyclopaedias!
Finally, what I mostly disliked in this book was the fact that it is very scientific and info-based in the first parts, but towards the end the author tries to give it a 'disaster movie' appeal (maybe because he does hope it becomes a movie) which is silly and out of line.
Summary: Very interesting read if you are a biology fan or like challenging books
The human species, with its high intelligence and capability of speech, has increasingly tended toward indifference, if not scorn, of the rest of the animal kingdom. The human view has centred on the large, or at least visible. Frank Schatzing has provided us with a challenging speculation why we should learn to change that outlook. In this captivating story, he posits the idea that neither our intelligence, nor our communications skills, may be unique on this planet. Perhaps something different has been brought into existence by evolution - something irritated by our presence.
Whales have been known to attack boats, generally by being provoked, and certainly not as a repeated pattern. Off the west coast of Vancouver Island, however, that's exactly what they do. Leon Anawak, a Canadian of First Nations ancestry, studies whale intelligence. He's never seen anything like the attacks, and nearly loses his life as a result. Half-way around the world, off the Norwegian coast, something else novel has occurred, worms busily chomping on sea-floor ice. That ice contains methane, a gas that can have major effects in various areas. In this case, the ice is holding the continental shelf edge in place. Sigurd Johanson is called on to investigate this phenomenon. He and Leon will be brought together in bizarre circumstances to help prevent the possible extinction of human life. They won't be alone as Schatzing develops his story through the introduction of a range of characters.
It's almost trite to say Schatzing has utilised a wealth of research information in creating this plausible tale. The ocean depths are such an enigma that it's been said that humanity knows more about the moon than it does about the seas covering two-thirds of our planet. The issue here isn't oceanography, however, but evolutionary biology, a topic better studied. Single-celled creatures have populated Earth for nearly four billion years. That's adequate time, one presumes, for them to have developed interesting capabilities. Schatzing brings much of what we know about micro-organisms to postulate a mechanism that could make them more dangerous than just infecting us. His science is on the mark, and his story-telling skills leave us little short of breathless.
He follows the best thriller technique in building events slowly, step by step. There seems no relationship between whales attacking boats, ice worms of unusual size and far from their normal haunts and mussels attaching themselves to ships far from harbour. It becomes increasingly clear that whatever is linking these occurences, it all has to do with the sea. The tension mounts when lobsters in a Paris restaurant kill their cook - by exploding! A pair of newlyweds on Long Island, New York, are interrupted in their tryst by a horde of crabs who cross the land like giant army ants. As humanity responds, it's the US that rises to act to save the planet, leading to yet another clash between science and the military. Any response must be directed and it's the determination of who - or what - is causing the bizarre occurences. In this, Schatzing utilises his science resources - including real-life researchers - and his people skills acquired while in advertising - to arrive at his confrontational finale.
The author's best talent is in his building of characters. While the events he relates are captivating and suspenseful, how he fits the characters into them works even better. The ageing Norwegian has a notable role, even if the ladies reading this book may not approve of his life style. There are, of course, villains. Even a threat to the entire planet doesn't leave us devoid of those consumed by self-interest. "America IS the world", says one, in explaining why a threat first posed in Canada and Norway is subsumed into supposed US interests. At the time this was written, the US had already issued a document declaring its intention to make the world "America". The greatest villain, of course, is the driving force behind all the disasters occurring or looming around the planet - the Yrr. The term came from Johanson idly tapping his computer keyboard, retained for convenience and lack of substitute.
The "word on the street" suggests Schatzing's editor cutlassed a significant portion of the story. Perhaps the added weight made it a health hazard. Given the popularity of the book in Europe, the printing of many copies of this tome must have engendered an environmental threat to Germany's forests. The trimming down is reflected in the abrupt conclusion of the story. It's plausible, but leaves many questions unanswered: what sort of consciousness do the Yrr have? What would be the long-term effect of the sea's disturbances? The omissions are paltry beside the scope of Schatzing's achievement. The book is a "must" have for a wide range of reasons. But this reviewer doesn't recommend you take it along for beach reading. You'll be spending too much time glancing at the surf for emerging sea life. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 9 May 2012
Having enjoyed Death and the Devil so much, I was eagerly looking forward to The Swarm, so much so that I had pre-ordered the English translation.
Perhaps The Epic would have been a better title - this was a really long book, and whilst that would always be my preference as I enjoy something deep to get my teeth into, sadly in this case it was so long because the author had been allowed to throw in all the research he had done in preparation for the novel. There are many places in the book where it is clear that Frank has done extensive research about a particular topic that is relevant to the story, but he then goes and spoils it all by basically regurgitating ALL his research over the next n pages and you get bogged down in incidental detail that doesn't help the story move along.
First though, I should say that I really enjoyed the premise of the book. I do like well written and intelligent sci-fi and whilst you wouldn't describe The Swarm as a sci-fi book, it touches on some topics regarding intelligence beyond ourselves that were really thought provoking.
At 500 pages I suspect this could have been brilliant - albeit with a stronger ending. At nearly double that I'm afraid it was a huge let down. The one saving grace is that if you are a quick reader like me, you'll soon get adept at skipping over whole swaths of prose when it's about characters you don't care about or research that you've read enough of now thanks.