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REVIEW: The Swarm by Frank Schatzing

REVIEW SUMMARY: A book that should appeal to both science fiction and non-science fiction audiences.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The creatures of the sea rise up against man but something else seems to be in command (cue scary underwater menace music…)

PROS: Raises interesting questions about intelligence and what form it will take; lots of excellent science here.
CONS: A little too heavy-handed about environmentalism and a little cliché at the end.
BOTTOM LINE: A Peter Benchley-esque book with some unique twists and excellent flow.

I will admit that at first the thought of reading The Swarm was interesting, but then I saw that the book was 800+ pages. At that point, it became that book that I should read but could never get up enough excitement to actually sit down and start, and when I updated my shelf John would comment about this book but I would continue to distract him with a shiny object. Now I no longer have to engage in that type of activity since (although I might since he seems to like them shiny objects) I have completed reading the book, and found that it moves along at a fantastic pace with a great plot.

Before getting into the book itself, it should be noted that The Swarm is a translation from German to English. I was a little worried about this since there are always issues depending on who did that work and how much of the information can be converted. Before anyone gets upset about Tim being insensitive to other cultures (I am – I know), there are situations where there is not a direct translation of certain phrases to/from English, and sometimes things can be lost in that process. In this case, my worries were unwarranted since the translation work is top notch, and if I did not know better then I would say this book was originally written in its current format. That is a testament to the translation team and the author in the delivery.

The Swarm starts out with some mystery and has sea creatures of all sizes striking back against man and his polluting ways. Now I am simplifying the action, but that is how the first portion of the book plays out. I really enjoyed the interactions of the scientists and other characters as they attempt to determine what is going on with the changes in the behavior of the sea creatures. I also found that the characters and their roles to be quite believable unlike another book I read. The way these characters worked together and eventually come together felt natural which was pleasantly surprising. The science in the book is also quite good since it appears that Mr. Schatzing really spent a lot of time researching the topics discussed in the book, but he does get a bit preachy about the environmental impact humans have had. I do realize that there is more we could do to keep things clean but this was pushed a bit hard at many points in the book. Another element that worked was the way the book was broken down into sections which really felt like a multi-act play.

As the book continues, the reader learns about the ultimate cause of the issues with the sea creatures and this is where the science fiction element comes into the picture. It is here where I was intrigued since the author really spends some effort describing how an alien intelligence would not necessarily be like what we would normally categorize as intelligence. This was such a fantastic discussion and I would love to go into details here about it, but that would take away from the work performed by the author. This was so different from what I have read elsewhere that I just wanted to see how it played out.

Unfortunately, the ending just did not live up to the rest of the book. I felt that it was a tad bit rushed given the build up that was occurring and it was a bit cliché. I won’t spoil the ending for those who wish to read it, but I was a little let down when I got there since the remainder of the book was somewhat unique. This alone cost the book a half a star in my opinion. I wonder if there was more to it or if this was the ending they envisioned.

Now as I understand it the book has done well in Europe but not so well in the US, and part of that can be attributed to the heavy environmental attitude that is found here and also somewhat due to its length which I have already said was over 800 pages (approximately 880 if you need particulars). The length of the of the book could have been mitigated by doing a book split since the story is told in a series of sections (4 plus a prologue and an epilogue). The first book would correspond to the prologue and the first section, and the second book would cover the remainder of the story. This is how I would have done it, but then again I am not an editor. I also realize that some folks do not like book splitting, but I am simply saying that the split might have increased sales of the book.

I also understand that the book has been optioned for a movie, but that is probably not the best venue for this book. The biggest problem with a movie is one of scope and the events covered in this book occur on a global scale, and cannot be properly represented in a single two hour movie. That is just not enough time to cover the events that occur in this book which take place over an entire year. A mini-series would work much better for this story but nobody really asked me.

In conclusion the the question that remains is “would you recommend this book?” My answer is yes since it really has some great ideas working within its cover, and if you can overlook its shortcomings, you will find a great story about man coming to grips with one possible form intelligence will take and what if that intelligence existed on the same planet with us.

1 Comment on REVIEW: The Swarm by Frank Schatzing

  1. Hm. I’d bought it and it’s likewise just sitting on my shelf, waiting for me to have the gumption to read it. Sounds good enough to be worth digging into. Fine, ya’ talked me into it.

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