There is something about the ocean and the things that might dwell in its churning, dark depths that terrifies me, and yet I am utterly engrossed by my own fear and so my favourite horror stories are those about sea monsters ... at least when they are done well, which let's face it, is not often (especially when it comes to movies). I am pleased to say that Steve Alten's 'Meg' thankfully is not awful in any way and anyone looking for a quick and exciting action/adventure with some juicy horror, featuring a giant shark need look no further than this. Why only three stars then? I hear you ask. Well, there are a few areas which detracted from my over all enjoyment. These are from a literary perspective and I realise that 'Meg' is not essentially meant to be deconstructed in that way, these flaws still niggled at me throughout the read. Anyone just looking for my descripion a few lines up need go no futher and ignore the rant to follow, please enjoy the read, the book is filled with dramatic action sequences, scary moments and edge of seat cliffhangers and is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.
Now for my gripes: When a writer puts a lot of effort into researching his chosen subject it can add to the effectiveness of a fictional story and deepen both narrative and reader involvement. However, the literary world has a saying, "Your research is showing". I think it's great that Mr Alten did so much research into the megalodon, paeleontology and deep sea technology and exploration, but I feel he should have used this more subtly within the novel. Showing off his research during an exposition scene such as the paeleontogy lecture near the beginning of the book or the scenes when the main character must explain to the others helping to catch the shark how the shark hunts and how they are going to catch it works well but when Alten is using this heavily scientific terminology in descriptive passages it just reads far too clunkily. Thankfully this is not a consistant feature throughout the novel but does bog down a few sections. My second problem is with Alten's characterization of his female characters, of which there are only two. I find the presentation of these two women to be overly misogenistic and sexist, something I didn't expect to find in a contemporary novel based in contemporary times. While I'm disinclined to believe that Alten actually holds this view point himself I do think he has difficulty writing female characters and seriously needs to put more thought into his charactorization of women in future novels. A third problem is with the character Masau Tanaka, this is less to do with his characterization and more a flaw in his character backstory. Masau, from the moment he is introduced comes across as a slightly stereotypical, aged Japanese businessman, he speaks using good english but intersperced with japanese termanology such as refering to Jonas as "Taylor-san" and when angry reverts back to full Japanese. He is by no means offensive and is infact one of Alten's more well rounded characters (as far as that can be said in this book) but it is later in the book when Alten tells us Masau's back story where things fall apart. We discover that during the second world war Masau, aged four, and his parents were living in america and taken into a Japanese internment camp after the attack of Pearl Harbour. In this camp his parents died, he was then adopted and raised by an american couple ... in america. Surely a character that was raised in america by american parents from the age of four-years-old would not come across as a slightly stereotypical Japanese businessman, who speaks with Japanese anacronysms in a way that suggests a Japanese accent.
Well the rant is over, sorry about that. Here's some stuff that Alten does well to remind you that I enjoyed more of the book than the few things I object to: The journey into the Mariana Trench is written with absolute atmospheric genius, the terrifying abyss closes in around our characters along with the fear of the things that swim out in the blackness. The main action and attack sequences are written with verve and frenetic attention to detail. But I think Alten's best achievement in this book is the megalodon itself, in it he has created a creature that is singularly beautiful and horrorfying, both elegant and disgusting - a thing that can really capture our most primal of fears. On a final note this edition includes the first chapters of Alten's other book 'The Loch' which from reading them manages to capture that same feeling of magesty and terror as the Mariana Trench section of 'Meg' while also appearing to be more finely written, one to keep an eye on perhaps, so long as Alten can iron out at least a few of the kinks in his writing.