In Darkest Memory Submerged

A Review of Nick Cutter’s The Deep (forthcoming January 2015, Gallery Books).
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo for The Deep courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada.

Cover photo for The Deep courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada.

There are unexplored places in our world, places of darkness, places of depth, places that are so hostile to human life that we can barely explore them. They are places whose contemplation itself inspires a reassessment of our fundamental understanding of our world. In The Deep, Nick Cutter asks what is submerged in that murky darkness where light can’t reach, what hidden, forgotten, lost, and suppressed things dwell in the pressures of the deep.

As much as The Deep is about the deep ocean and the strange, haunting landscape beneath the waves, it is also about other things suppressed, the mindscapes that we deny, submerge, and work to forget. The Deep begins with a disease that has spread across our world, the ‘Gets, a disease that causes us to forget, to lose our memories and identity in waves of illness. The population tries to hold on to normalcy and rituals as a way to feel normal, but nothing has ever been normal and Cutter’s exploration of humanity’s desire to forget about the ‘Gets reflects the suppression we enact in everyday life, refusing to ask the questions that we don’t or can’t have answers for.

Luke’s own existence is shaped by the interplay of suppression of memories and the simultaneous draw that those memories represent. Having lost his son, a mystery that was never solved, he lives in a place of absented presence, coping both with the possibility that his son may be somewhere in the world and the awareness that he is likely gone. Luke’s family life has always been shaped by a desire to forget – from the abuse and torment he faced at the hands of his mother, to his coping with the likelihood that his brother, a scientist, is likely sociopathic, with no capacity for guilt, sympathy, or emotional connection.

When Luke is called to a deep sea research station where his brother is conducting experiments on a life form that could cure the ‘Gets, he is forced to submerge both into the watery darkness of the deep ocean and simultaneously into the depths of his own memory, imagination, horrors, and fears… and to confront those fears that he has suppressed but that nevertheless have shaped his awareness of the world around him. The deep sea station itself and the research team are shaped by a dualistic desire to discover and a desire to suppress. The research team has ceased communicating with the surface world, ceased filing psych reports that were deemed necessary for ensuring their psychological health in the depths of a foreign and forbidding terrain. Yet, they are obsessed with the notion of discovery, of uncovering secrets that the universe has veiled in layers of sea water, darkness, and geological history. Scientific curiosity has met science’s suppression of likelihoods that are impossible for science to grasp. Luke’s brother Clay seeks to understand the odd and unusual but can’t comprehend it as this new substance at the sea floor called ambrosia consistently slips from his grasp, opening new possibilities as he systemically closes them out of his belief that they are impossible.

Cover photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada

Cover photo courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada

When Luke arrives at the station, he is physically confronted with the sea pressure of the ocean depths, the darkness that prevails, and the unimaginable foreignness of the sea floor, which contains creatures so odd that they slip from our understanding of life on this planet. These physical sensations are paired with the psychological as he faces the pressures of the unknowable, the darkness of buried and suppressed memories and the haunted things that have shaped his imagination, and the sense of the unfamiliar that enters his mind at the moment of entry into the station. Luke is forced to confront the threat that curiosity and the desire to know represent… particularly when knowing itself can be a trap for mind and body.

To discover more about the work of Nick Cutter, visit his website at http://www.craigdavidson.net/

To discover more about The Deep, visit Simon & Schuster’s website at http://books.simonandschuster.ca/The-Deep/Nick-Cutter/9781501101519

Depths

A Review of A.E. Van Vogt’s The Silkie
By Derek Newman-Stille

Van Vogt’s creation, the silkie is both human and fundamentally alien, integrating elements of “us” with the “Other”. Possessing senses beyond human understanding -enough to reframe the entire sensory network – the silkie sees the world through different eyes, yet it is forced to take a human mate and live as a human for periods of time. It is at home in the depths of the ocean and in the expanse of space, able to shift its form from an aquatic being, to a human form, to a space-fairing form capable of swimming through the stars, it possesses the ability to move beyond the limits of human exploration, both sets of depths.

The name “silkie” is borrowed from mythology, from the figure of the “selkie”, an entity that is capable of shifting from the form of a seal to a human form. In myth, the selkie is often female and is trapped into a marriage relationship when a male human being takes her seal skin and she forgets her life under the sea and becomes subservient to him. Van Vogt’s silkie is male, forced by genetic manipulation to take a weaker, human state in order to mate with human females on a cycle to ensure that the silkie maintains its allegiance to Earth. Van Vogt plays with the myth, inverting gender and inverting the impulses of the creature. It is still a creature that can occupy a human form, but is capable of travelling into depths that are inaccessible to humans, and it is imbued with the “Otherness” that comes from having a transformative body and that comes from venturing into places of the unknown or unfamiliar.

Van Vogt’s silkie challenges the alien in other forms – alternating between human and alien bodies, it is capable of confronting difference in the form of invading aliens. Although its body is transformative, the silkies of Earth have been made police officers, enforcing the status quo and resisting change. They challenge alien invaders and eliminate them, sometimes incorporating elements of the alien into themselves in order to best them like an undercover police officer confronting the criminal underworld while allowing him or herself to meld with it.

Thanks to James Kerr for lending me this book. This book is currently out of print, but is available through used bookstores and used book retailers.