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Sea Change

Sea Change

3.0 1
by Powlik

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In the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest, two fishermen are the first to feel the heat. Then a young girl, playing innocently by the seashore—before dying an agonizing death. Now the media have a story. Reporters, scientists, and government officials are descending on the coastline, searching for a killer



In the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest, two fishermen are the first to feel the heat. Then a young girl, playing innocently by the seashore—before dying an agonizing death. Now the media have a story. Reporters, scientists, and government officials are descending on the coastline, searching for a killer in the water. Renegade oceanographer Brock Garner is at the center of the storm.

He wants to know why he's finding dead zones in the Pacific...and why his best friend's heart stopped after he examined ravaged sea lions on a beach. Dr. Ellie Bridges, on duty when the little girl died, has questions of her own. Thrown together in the chaos, Brock and Ellie are about to uncover some disturbing truths: about a catastrophe of unimaginable proportions that is growing. Gathering strength. And moving—unless they can stop it—south toward a new victim. Seattle.



Editorial Reviews

Real-life oceanographer and debut novelist James Powlik delivers Sea Change, an intense bio-technothriller equipped with Crichton-esque scientific speculation and the breakneck, no-holds-barred pace of a Clive Cussler or Robin Cook.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a season where deadly biological epidemics seem to be the thriller topic of choice (see Gerritsen's Gravity, above), Powlik's exciting debut speculates on a pandemic with a humble origin: microscopic marine protozoa--only these minute creatures have transformed into a cataclysmically dangerous organism. Horrific deaths that liquefy the brains and flesh of victims baffle Canadian and American researchers in remote fishing hamlets of the Pacific Northwest until marine microbiologist William Brock Garner; his ex-wife, whale sonar expert Carol Harmon; and physician Ellie Bridges get on the case. Facing stiff resistance from Carol's father, Charles, a former Defense Department consultant, the trio challenge the conflicting agendas of environmentalists, scientists, the government and tourist industries to identify and stop the deadly phenomenon. A swimming microbial fish pathogen has mutated to link billions of madly reproducing cells into one huge, floating colony that pumps out lethal, airborne poisons that can stall engines as well as dissolve living tissue. Brock locates the colony--now heading toward Seattle--with a gale approaching and no way to stop it until Carol's new husband, a self-promoting eco-warrior, throws money, press clout and equipment into the battle, discreetly backed by U.S. agents who know the sinister truth connected to Carol's father. At heart this is an expert riff on the classic monster-horror novel, unoriginal in structure but as swiftly moving as a tsunami. Canadian oceanographer Powlik invests his adventure with echoes of terror tales past, fiction and nonfiction, from The Blob to The Hot Zone, as well as with authentic science, an affecting romance and a knockout climax. As sure as shark jaws, this thriller will keep readers out of the water and on the beach, reading their eyes out. $250,000 ad/promo; BDD audio; author tour. (Aug.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A life-threatening plankton bloom (a fast-growing colony of microorganisms that eats every living thing in its path) is gathering strength off the coast of Washington State. Meanwhile, marine microbiologist Brock Garner and his ex-wife, Carol, who are investigating the mysterious death of Carol's brother, slowly realize that Mark is not the only fatality and that whatever is causing mass destruction among the marine population is a serious threat to all life in the area. Mobilizing what resources they can, the Garners and a small group of like-minded individuals set out to stop the colony from moving into Puget Sound. Biologist and oceanographer Powlik brings a great deal of real-life knowledge to this fantastical story of microorganisms running rampant. The possibility that such an event could actually happen helps make this a suspenseful and gripping tale. A good summer read; suitable for most fiction collections.--Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L., OH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Oceanographer Powlik debuts with a bio-technothriller so awash in technology that some likable characters barely get their heads above water. Beware the dreaded pfiesteria, it's a killer. It has "up to 24 distinct life stages and produces at least two toxins that act offensively"—which is to say murderously—and it's on the loose in the Pacific. Or perhaps that's an inexact phrase for something that adheres like jelly, looks like a green slick eight square miles wide, and is moving inexorably on a line that threatens to wipe out the populations of Seattle or Vancouver or both. A natural disaster? Hardly. Pfiesteria is the result of an experiment gone wrong: one of those occasional misadventures perpetrated by a military-industrial complex panicky and anxious about parity in bio-chemical warfare. The thin line of defense against the giant, waterborne bug is composed of crack oceanographer Brock Garner and his small but dedicated band of scientists. Pitted against them—with a secret agenda as self-serving as it is nefarious—is the conniving archcapitalist Bob Nolan, who never saw the buck he wouldn't stoop to stuff in his coffers. There's the internecine warfare between the scientists; a pleasant, understated love story between Garner and a beautiful lady doc (a romance that could have used more room to bloom), and some horrifically vivid descriptions of pfiesteria-caused deaths. Finally, Nolan gets his just deserts, Garner gets the girl, and the noxious peril is coped with. Though the author hints at more undersea menace in the future, greenish pfiesteria with pinkish wisteria is allowed to become no more than quiet fare for a couplet. Blended cleverly, scienceand suspense are of course compatible. Next time out, the talented Powlik may well get the mix just right. ($250,000 ad/promo)

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Reprinted Edition
Product dimensions:
6.92(w) x 4.28(h) x 1.08(d)

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August 8 50 degrees 0' Lat.; 132 degrees 0' W. Long. Downrange of Northeast Pacific Weather Station "Papa"

The horizon was a featureless gray line in every direction from the R/V Exeter as the ship cruised directly west, out of sight of any land. Except for drifting cloud formations, the view had not changed for ten days. Stretching nearly one-quarter of the way across the North Pacific, the 50th parallel of latitude was known as "Line P" on an alphabetically assigned sampling grid devised by researchers of JGOFS—the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study. Twice each year, survey ships returned to these same positions for up to five weeks at a time, sampling the ocean's temperature, salinity, microscopic fauna, and trace elements to evaluate their cycling and recycling in the sea. Through careful repetition, a model was being devised to determine what the ocean contained, how it continued to evolve, and what predictions could be made about its behavior. Those who believed, and appreciated, that the ship would soon turn back toward solid ground affectionately knew Station P24, the end of this line at 150 degrees West Longitude, as "Papa."

Standing just over six-foot-two, William Brock Garner had learned to duck his head slightly whenever passing through one of the Exeter's hatchways. He was muscular in an understated way, with toned limbs and a naturally athletic stride that suggested more than his infrequent participation in beach volleyball, pick-up basketball, or a Sunday morning jog. Garner's eyes were a sharp, crystalline gray, capable of flicking from compassionate to predatory with a single blink. His features were handsome and defined, smooth except for two minor but noticeable imperfections: a slight curve to the slope of his nose and a small scar that cut across his eyebrow in the shape of a lazy-S. Both were souvenirs from an abbreviated but respectable career in the U.S. Navy that saw him retire early at the rank of Lieutenant Commander.

Another place, another time. Same ocean.

Garner glanced at the depth meter as he moved from the main lab to the afterdeck: 3,520 meters/11,550 feet,  roughly the average depth of the oceans worldwide. Having long ago passed over the continental shelf that bordered the North American continent like a submerged geological hoopskirt, the Exeter  was now cruising at 13 knots two miles above the ocean floor, the closest point of solid earth. Anything tossed overboard would take more than ninety minutes to free-fall to the bottom.

A massive A-frame boom painted industrial yellow centered the stern of the Exeter, the ship's frothy wake stretched out behind it. Nearly as massive and colorful in his orange exposure suit was Sergei Zubov, the Exeter's chief science assistant. At the moment, Zubov's gaze shifted repeatedly between the winch and a gleaming, five-foot-diameter sphere that gently bobbed against its restraining cables fifteen feet above the deck. The result of Garner's painstaking design, the sphere was an automated plankton sampler. In the previous hundred years of formalized ocean study, there had probably been as many designs for "the definitive plankton sampler," and several had survived the test of time. Many found Garner's elegant but temperamental design unpalatable, if not utterly ridiculous; the rest regarded it as revolutionary. Zubov had subscribed to the latter group the first time Garner brought the gleaming beast aboard the Exeter.  While that first impression had ebbed after countless adjustments, blown circuits, and frustrated profanity, Zubov now watched over Garner's invention like the tireless parent of a brilliant but habitually sick child.

The lower hemisphere of the device was cast from weighted titanium, nearly smooth despite its full array of infrared sensors and microfocus cameras designed to count and identify microorganisms in their natural habitat. The equator of the instrument contained openings to a cadre of specimen chambers that automatically captured parcels of water for later analysis. (That the arrangement of the chamber ports resembled a grinning mouth and eyes when viewed from the front wasn't just a functional decision by the device's inventor.) Finally, the top of the sphere renounced all symmetry, blossoming into an ungainly bouquet of instruments for recording temperature, pressure, light, and conductivity as the device was towed through the euphotic zone, the light-penetrated surface waters of the ocean.

Some said the instrument looked like Sputnik on a bad hair day, but Garner selected a more obvious nickname for his brainchild: the Medusa sphere. In the search for vindication, the Medusa supported its mythological moniker. The first several attempts to sample with the device had produced no useful results. After each failed attempt, Garner would bring the instrument back into its deck housing and meticulously check each of its connections to the computerized controls in the lab. Zubov then had to ensure that the instrument was precisely redeployed so it would fly properly as it was towed through the water.

When Medusa did work—had a good hair day—the sphere had to be paced through its sampling regimen under precise parameters over several miles, despite adverse sea conditions attempting to thwart this arrangement and its house-of-cards fragility. If all went right, Medusa could provide more data in a single tow than any two dozen alternatives. The samples were cleaner and more precise and could be processed more efficiently than with any other sampler ever built. But if one thing went wrong, the trial was lost and the entire sampling schedule could be delayed or canceled completely.

The learning curve of such attempts was especially annoying to the Exeter's crew, who were at sea for two hundred days a year and had hosted an unending series of neurotic, obsessive, and (usually) far-from-seaworthy scientists and their brittle equipment, whose racks of Pyrex glassware and schizophrenic electronics did little to earn the respect of those accustomed to gear grease and pig iron. If for no other reason, Garner and Zubov should have been natural adversaries, but Garner proved to be a very crewman-like scientist and Zubov was a very scientific crewman.

Following countless nights shared on a storm-swept deck, inventing new expletives about Medusa or complaining to the bottom of a bottle of liquor smuggled on board, the men had established an effective system of communication. More than that, Garner trusted implicitly Zubov's accuracy in deploying Medusa, so much so that Garner could concentrate on the processing of samples rather than their collection. With the majority of his NSF—National Science Foundation—and NOAA—National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—research funds invested in a sphere of titanium and PVC flying through space some two hundred feet below them, peace of mind only vaguely covered the ease that Garner felt. For his part, Zubov knew that getting the samples was virtually all that could justify the expenditure of effort. Besides, as he often immodestly reminded Garner, ensuring that the right numbers got collected was his job.

"Fucking whore," Zubov cursed as Garner approached. "The damn sensor array keeps getting caught up." Zubov was two inches taller than Garner and outweighed him by a hundred pounds. With his coal black eyes and coils of shiny black hair flowing down into a thick, matted beard, Zubov reminded Garner of a younger, larger, but more tapered version of Luciano Pavarotti. Zubov had been born in the Ukraine, leaving the rest of his natural-born family there and defecting to America only months before his hometown near Chernobyl rose to global notoriety. Now a permanent U.S. citizen, Zubov retained little evidence of his homeland beyond name, appetite, and a stalwart dedication to duty. Occasionally, only when he was drunk and rarely for more than a few syllables, his accent would slip its Americanized clarity and provide an echo of an almost-forgotten former life. The subtle departure in character often surprised those who didn't know Zubov well; for friends like Garner, former lives were simply another reason to go to sea in the first place.

Meet the Author

James Powlik is a researcher with a Ph.D. in biological oceanography and has been a consultant to science and education projects for a variety of concerns, including the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The author of numerous articles on global warming and other timely biological issues, Powlik lives in Arlington, Virginia.

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Sea Change 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The interest in diving, submarines, interpersonal relationships, and sea life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone who's spent time on the Mid-Atlantic coast in the past few summers needs to read this book. The threat of nasty red-tide organisms is brilliantly brought to life by James Powlik, who introduces us to a fictional beast based on fact, then tosses it into the Pacific Northwest for good measure. There are plenty of characters easy to like, plenty more that are fun to dislike, and a finish worth every word of the build-up.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Sea Change' gets off to a quick start and manages to maintain the pace through to a most enjoyable 'heart-stopping finish.' The expectations set up by the book's beginning hold up extremely well, unlike any number of other books in this genre. The characters are likable and the science is introduced clearly without becoming preachy or too technical. Anyone looking for a great mystery or an environmental thriller with plenty of twists and turns along the way will not be disappointed by this one. I look forward to more from this author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Sea Change' is a scary and well written scenario by an author who clearly knows a lot about oceanography and biology. Kept me turning the pages! -- John Cullen (John Argo), author of 'The Generals of October' (Clocktower Books)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great story until the end...he had me going until he threw ever single cliched ending into the last three pages. Other than that, I really enjoyed the book
Guest More than 1 year ago
Terrific! A must read! Not only horrific because it could happen, but just neatly done! I personally like how he puts acronyms and scientific details in because it's necessary to the usual crowd. Thanks for the details, Powlick! And he didn't need to 'sex it up' as most do. But still, with marine ecology being my passion, this was HARD TO PUT DOWN! I can't wait to read the next one! From prehistoric sharks, to perfect storms and killer micro-organisms, keep the stories in the wet and wild too, Powlick! Sorry-it doesn't keep me out of the water though!
Guest More than 1 year ago
THE HOT ZONE meets 'Jaws' in James Powlik's debut novel SEA CHANGE, an environmental thriller that gives new meaning to the phrase 'Don't go into the water.' The culprit here isn't anything so obvious as a gigantic great white. It's an altered marine protozoa, a transformed plankton bloom that has become an horrifically dangerous, eerily purposeful organism hunting the waters off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The author, an oceanographer who has acted as a consultant to agencies including the NSF and NASA, obviously knows his research subject. Although the narrative flows relatively smoothly, his dialogue and characterization are sometimes, well, shallow. Full of the conspiracies and jargon that are the hallmark of a scientific thriller, SEA CHANGE is a smart novel in the sense that the author knows his stuff. Too bad that his knowledge sometimes coughs itself up in clumsy clots of dialogue; not too many people, even honest-to-God brainiacs, define acronyms between dashes (--) in the normal course of conversation, no matter how strained the circumstances. Nonetheless, SEA CHANGE is a neat riff on the biological terror theme, just far enough from the run-of-the-mill virus crowd.