Profundis: The Deep Range

I picked up Arthur C. Clarke’s “The Deep Range” because the only other Clarke work I’ve read is “Rendezvous with Rama”, and having explored so little of one of SF’s titans is a grave mark mark against my credentials as a nerd.

The book began exceptionally well. It follows the life of Walter Franklin, a talented engineer and astronaut no longer able to work in space because an accident during transit to Mars has left him emotionally shattered.

A world feeling the strain of feeding billions of people has turned to farming its oceans and, not wanting to lose someone of Franklin’s caliber, psychologists reassign him to work for a government agency tasked with using submarines and underwater electromagnetic shields to herd whales. The similarities between sea and space make him a good candidate for the job, while their differences will (theoretically…) prevent any deleterious flashbacks to the traumas he experienced in his old profession.

“The Deep Range” showcases Clarke’s excellence in both the ‘science’ and ‘fiction’ aspects of his craft. Much of the technology running in the background seems plausible enough to me. Ethical issues aside, why shouldn’t it be possible to raise whales for meat and milk, or to use heat from submerged fusion reactors to create superblooms of plankton to be harvested for protein?  And like water to the proverbial fish the prose was so crystal-clear I quickly forgot I was reading at all, immersed instead in the excitement of hauling a giant squid up from the depths while fending off the sperm whales that would gladly eat it for lunch.

My only complaint is that the book began to lose cohesiveness after the midway point, reading instead like a series of vignettes whose only unifying thread was that they were scenes from the life of one man. This isn’t a serious blemish — hunting monsters amid earthquakes 4000 feet under the ocean still makes for exciting reading! — but it did diminish some of the edge-of-your-seat quality exhibited by the book’s earlier sections.

Given how much I’ve enjoyed Clarke so far, the decision is clear: I’ll have to make time to read more of him.

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