Pros: Fascinating premise
Cons: A couple characters become one-dimensional bad guys
Rating: 4 out of 5
Robbie Dorman’s Underneath is a wonderfully chilling tale of Antarctic horror. Medic and former marine Mary Jensen gets a call from an ex, Mike: he’s working a research site in Antarctica, and the medic died. They need a new medic right away. She decides that sure, she’s willing to take this on, and immediately heads out. The research station is tiny and isolated. The previous medic wandered out into the cold for no apparent reason and died. Apparently some sort of cosmic radiation was detected emanating from beneath the ice, which just shouldn’t be possible, and Dr. Schuller, the lead scientist, believes they’ll find some sort of unknown particle down there that contributed to human evolution. Unfortunately, when the drilling reaches the target depth, they find nothing at all. And then some of the dig personnel begin to hallucinate…
Schuller is a true believer who holds weekly meetings so known for his quasi-religious fervor that the others call them going to “chapel”. It’s kind of inevitable that he becomes a despotic, obsessed bad guy when faced with the notion that all of his hard work might come to naught. It’s a little too convenient that one of the other scientists becomes a mindless minion with no apparent ability to think for himself. The rest of the characters, however, have a little bit of depth to them, although Mary and to a lesser extent Mike are the only ones that get the full treatment. This won’t be a big deal to a lot of horror readers. Schuller’s minion did seem to have some extra talents that needed explanation–I might buy that a chemist can rig a fuel tank to explode, but there’s another explosion that is less understandable. Also, there are two identical psych evaluations in the files, leading Mary to realize someone’s eval was forged, but I wasn’t sure why she immediately decided on one of the two people as the culprit rather than having to wonder which it was.
The Antarctic is used quite well as a deadly setting. There’s a lot of detail on succumbing to the cold, being revived from the cold, and so on. I don’t have the background to know if it’s accurate, but when there’s this much detail to something I tend to expect that someone has done their research.
Content note for lots of gore, and torture. Things definitely get intense and horrific. I thought this story was quite good.