Jaws redux: In this debut, no one believes that deep-sea submersible pilot Jonas Taylor has had a nasty encounter with a Megaladonone of those 60' babies said to be the progenitors of today's great white sharkuntil something huge repeatedly snarls up the cables of another deep-sea probe.
As Jaws meets Jurassic Park, Meg (short for megladon) brings us a 60-foot, 20-ton prehistoric shark with a nine-foot-wide mouth that is likely to gobble up bestseller lists, as well as reappear in 1998 as a summer blockbuster.
In rather characterless prose, debut novelist Alten's well-groomed story rockets like a pre-edited filmscript from event to event. But the author's love of his title character is clear, as he keeps his Lord and Master of the Sea, a female Carcharodon Megalodon, frequently front and center. Seven years ago, Professor Jonas Taylor, a paleontologist and deep-sea submersible pilot, first saw such a shark, thought to be extinct, while diving more than seven miles down in the Marianas Trench. During the Ice Age, members of the species, it turns out, took refuge in the hot thermals on the ocean bottom. Lethally cold water above has kept from them resurfacing. Jonas's first encounter cost two lives, and has burdened him with profound guilt. He goes back down to the abyss anyway, accompanied by Masao Tanaka, the owner of a huge aquarium on the California coast. When a male Megalodon gets entrapped in steel cables in the trench, he's attacked by a pregnant female; she follows the male to the surface, surviving the journey, and discovers a warm new world, filled with varied, easy, hot-blooded prey. Clearly, the shark is an ecological disaster, especially when she gives birth to three more of her kind. Taylor and Tanaka, however, don't want to destroy the shark but rather to harness her drugged body and haul it into confinement. This means some vastly dangerous close work with her once she's located, with Taylor hovering about the monster in a submersible that becomes theinstrument of an utterly amazing climax. A female offspring in captivity at story's end guarantees a sequel.
Weightless characters on a choppy seabut hellishly riveting.
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Spotting the predator's glow, the chopper followed the female as she headed out to sea, radioing their position to the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Within minutes, both the Nautilus and the Kiku had put to sea, racing north past Mamala Bay. By the time the Kiku reached Kaena Point, the incoming storm had reached gale-force proportions, the raging night fully upon them.
Jonas and Terry were in the pilothouse as the door leading to the deck tore open against the howling wind. Mac slipped into the dry compartment, slamming the hatch closed behind him, his yellow slicker dripping all over the floor.
"Copter's secured. So's the net and harpoon gun. We're in for a rough one, Jonas."
"This may be our only chance. Our last report indicated most of the whale pods have left these coastal waters. If we don't at least tag the female before she heads into open waters, we may lose her for good."
The three entered the CIC, where Masao was standing over a crewman seated at the sonar console. He looked grim. "The Coast Guard broke off their pursuit because of the weather." Masao turned to the crewman. "Anything on sonar yet, Pasquale?"
Without looking up, the Italian shook his head. "Just the Nautilus." He hung on to his console as a twenty-foot swell lifted and tossed the research vessel from one side to the other.
Captain Barre stood at the helm, his sea legs giving naturally with the roll of his vessel. "Hope nobody had a big dinner. This storm is gonna be a bitch."
Life on board the world's first nuclear-powered submarine was relatively calm as the ship entered Waimea Bay one hundred feet below the raging storm.Originally commissioned in the summer of 1954, the sub possessed a single nuclear reactor that created the superheated steam necessary to power its twin turbines and two shafts. Although the vessel had set many records for undersea voyages, none would match her historic journey to the North Pole in 1958. Decommissioned in 1980, the sub was originally scheduled to return to Groton, Connecticut, where she was built, until Commander McGovern petitioned the Navy to bring her to Pearl Harbor as a tourist attraction.
When he learned of the Megalodon attack in the Mariana Trench, McGovern knew the crisis required naval intervention. But he also knew he could not justify the use of a Los Angeles class submarine to locate a prehistoric shark. Danielson's suggestion to use the Nautilus made sense, and so the submarine returned to duty after seventeen years of inactivity.
"Anything on the sonar, Ensign?"
The sonar man was listening with his headphones while watching his console screen. The screen was designed to give a visual representation of the difference between the background noise and a particular bearing. Any object within range would appear as a light line against the green background. "Lots of surface activity from this storm. Nothing else, sir."
"Very well, keep me informed. Chief of the watch, what's our weapons status?"
Chief Engineer Dennis Heller, six years younger than his brother Frank, yet still one of the oldest members of the sub's makeshift crew, looked up from his console. "Two Mark 48 AD-CAP torpedoes ready to fire on your command, sir. Torpedoes set for close range, as per your orders. A bit tight, if you don't mind my saying, sir."
"Has to be, Chief. There's nothing to lock on to here. When sonar locates this monster, we'll need to be as close as possible to ensure an accurate solution."
"Captain Danielson!" The radioman leaned back from his console. "I'm receiving a distress call from a Japanese whaler. Hard to make out, sir, but it sounded as if they're being attacked!"
"Navigator, plot an intercept course, ten degrees up on the fair-weather planes. If this is our friend, I want to kill it and be back at Pearl in time for last call at Grady's."
The Japanese whaler Tsunami rolled with the massive swells, rain and wind pelting her crew mercilessly. The vessel's hold was dangerously overloaded with its illegal catch: the carcasses of eight gray whales. Two more had been lashed to the port side of the ship with a cargo net.
Two lookouts held on to their precarious perch and strained their eyes in weather and darkness. The two mates had been assigned the hazardous duty of making sure the valuable blubber remained firmly secured during the storm. Unfortunately for the exhausted men, their searchlight hardly penetrated the maelstrom. Sporadic flashes of lightning afforded the only real vision of their precious cargo.
Flash. The ocean dropped from view as the ship rolled to starboard, the cargo net groaning with its keep. The sailors hung on as the Tsunami rolled to port. Flash. The sea threatened to suck them under, the net actually disappearing momentarily beneath the waves. Flash. The vessel rolled back to starboard, the net reappearing. The men gasped--a massive white triangular head had risen from the sea with the cargo!
Darkness. The Tsunami rolled, its lookouts blind in the storm. Silent seconds passed. Then, flash, a fork of lightning lit the sky and the horrible head reappeared, its mouth bristling razor-sharp teeth.
The mates screamed, but the storm muted the sound. The senior mate signaled to the other that he would find the captain. Flash. The unimaginably large jaws were tearing at the carcass now, the head leaning sideways against the rolling vessel, gnashing at the whale blubber.
The ship rolled to starboard once more. The senior mate struggled to make it down to the wooden deck, squeezing his eyes shut against the gale and holding tight to the rope ladder. He could lower himself only a rung at a time as the ship listed to port . . . and kept rolling! He opened his eyes, felt his stomach churn. Flash. The sea kept coming, the triangular head gone. But something was pulling the Tsunami onto its side and into the water.
"Captain, the whaler is two hundred yards ahead."
"Thank you, Chief. Take us to periscope depth."
"Periscope depth, aye, sir."
The sub rose as Danielson pressed his face against the rubber housing of the periscope and stared into darkness. The night scope turned the blackness topside into shades of gray, but the storm and rolling waves severely reduced visibility. Flash. The raging Pacific was illuminated, and for an instant Danielson caught a silhouette of the whaler lying on its side.
He pulled back. "Contact the Coast Guard," he ordered. "Where's their nearest cutter?"
"Sir," responded the radioman, "the only surface ship within twenty miles is the Kiku."
"Captain, you'd better look at this, sir." The sonar man stood. His fluorescent screen showed the position of the downed whaler . . . and something else, circling the vessel.