Sea Species

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I really wanted to like R. L. Clayton’s debut novel, Sea Species. Unfortunately, the more I read, the easier it became to put this book down and the harder it became to pick it up again. By the time I got about a third of the way through, I could go no farther. Skipping ahead to see if things got better didn’t offer any encouragement.

What went wrong? The problems are the kinds that happen when a new writer doesn’t get the outside advice and critique on the draft that he should have and publishes the book before it’s ready.

Clayton’s good guys, the scientists of the Kihhim science colony in Arizona are indistinguishable except by name and gender. The colony’s enemies—a shadowy radical environmental group and a few individuals in various arms of the US government—are clichés and just as flat as the colonists they oppose. There was no one I wanted to root for or against.

None of the characters converse with each other the way normal people—even normal scientists—do. Instead, they give grammatically correct, nearly contraction-free, complete sentence mini-speeches. There’s little drama or conflict among or within the colonists, and any problem or threat that pops up is handled with calm aplomb. Even when the colony has to abandon its underground home and take to the seas in converted supertankers, the pace and intensity of the story doesn’t vary.

In addition, it’s clear that the author skipped key bits of research. One of the colony’s secret projects is creating vat-grown organs that can be “infused” with the future recipient’s DNA before transplantation. How the scientists would “infuse” DNA into every cell of an already grown organ, replacing the existing DNA, isn’t explained. A little research would have revealed that real scientists today are exploring ways to grow replacement organs from the recipient’s own cells.

Then there are the mechanical errors that an editor or critique group would have caught. For example, Clayton spells out the acronym CDC as the Center (singular) for Disease Control, when the correct name is the Centers (plural) for Disease Control and Prevention. Conversely, he abbreviates the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives as BATFE. That seems logical, but the agency has long been known as the ATF, and “ATF” or “ATF Agent” is what their people wear on the backs of their jackets when conducting raids.

Sea Species is the first book of the Evolution River Series. Volumes II and III have also been published and one can only hope that the author invested in a professional edit for them. The basic concept—humans and other intelligent species genetically engineered to live together in expanding oceans—has the potential to be a set of entertaining stories, but until the author needs a firmer handle on the basics of character development, dialogue, pacing, and more. I can’t recommend Sea Species.

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