Here’s the full review, from the December 15th issue:
Like Jupiter’s Europa, Ilmatar is a moon of a giant gas planet. Here, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick and beneath a deep ocean, a team of Earth scientists has established a habitat in order to study the blind, intelligent aliens who resemble giant, lobsterlike, bald otters and whose home is this lightless, frigid, forbidding environment. The explorers have come to an agreement with a six-legged alien race, the Sholen, humanity’s first extraterrestrial contact, not to disturb the Ilmatarans or their habitat. But when media blowhard Henri Kerlerec persuades scientist Rob Freeman to venture out in secret so that Henri can use his new stealth diving suit to film the Ilmatarans up close, the Ilmatarans eventually detect him and, being scientists themselves and not recognizing him as intelligent or alien, dissect him. According to the Sholen, this constitutes interference; having repeatedly ruined their own planet, the Sholen’s misguided and self-appointed mission is to make sure nobody else ruins their planet either, so they order the humans to withdraw. Wary of the older, more advanced Sholen technology, the humans decide on passive resistance. Inevitably, matters slowly escalate into overt violence. More impressive than the worldbuilding, which is based on logical extrapolation, is Cambias’ diligent consideration of the technology required to survive in such an extreme environment. Best of all are the aliens. Ilmataran civilization is based on farming the products of deep-sea hot-water vents, while their perceptions and communications employ sound and pressure waves—although, since oxygen is poisonous to them, it’s difficult to envisage what gives them metabolic power enough to support intelligence. The Sholen behave according to consensus reached through political and sexual bonding.
An exceptionally thoughtful, searching and intriguing debut.
A Darkling Sea will be published on January 28th.