Review: “Subterrestrial,” Michael McBride

Pros: Interesting disaster story with clever tweaks
Cons: I had difficulty getting emotionally involved in most of the characters’ fates
Rating: 3 out of 5

In Michael McBride’s Subterrestrial a disastrously failed drilling operation in the Arctic unearths signs of underground… well, not civilization so much, but at least a surprising amount of animal life. The main focus is on the dangers the team faces: falls, drownings, heavy currents smashing people into rock, and some very inimical animal life. Personalities and background take a backseat.

I admit, I thought this would be more of a “civilization at the center of the earth” sort of thing, especially given the way things start out. However, it quickly turns into a battle in which the characters are being squeezed to death between some very nasty predators and a whole lot of underground flooding. The wild card is the group of primates also living below: will they act as another predator, or recognize the humans as more than just another kind of animal? Thankfully there’s a primate specialist on the team.

My main problem with this book is that it seemed painfully obvious that they couldn’t keep water from flooding back in for long, so I couldn’t understand why everyone was so shocked that people started dying. I couldn’t see why they didn’t take some sort of additional precautions to make sure they could get back alive if things went south.

I did have some difficulty developing empathy for maybe half the team. There just wasn’t enough time to get to know them before they started swimming for their lives. The bizarre creatures living underground definitely added tension and interest, even though they aren’t entirely the focus of the tale. There are some fascinating details to the cycle of life in the underground tunnels.

Overall this makes a good disaster story blended with a decent monster story.

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