WITHIN THE WATER by Kelly Fallows, Matador, p/b £7.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
I will confess that when I first tackled this tale I found it difficult as in its opening stages it lacked reference points to connect with the plot described in the publisher’s blurb. Maybe a little more context at this stage would help the reader. I was left with an impression of a long story starting off with dynamic action in an attempt to grab the reader and hold them. In my case it didn’t work, but reviewers have to be made of stern stuff. Eventually, I came back for more.
This tale is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has been forced to live within the oceans as a horrific land war has left the surface uninhabitable. Great cities have been built under the sea where humanity now lives a constrained existence under the dominion of two polities, the Republic and the Guild. The real tragedy is that both governments are corrupt and criminal.
The hero of the story is Benjamin Daniels, a former commander in the submarine navy of the Republic who had gone overboard to become the pirate captain of his own submarine the Coelacanth. He and his crew are blackmailed by Rose a leading politician of the Guild to ambush a submarine of the Republic carrying a minister and some very confidential information in both ledgers and computer hard drives.
Daniels does the needful with a lot of swashbuckling action. Ah, Jim lad as the eponymous pirate always says! They capture the minister, they purloin the data and take in the minister’s female slave who is known only by a coded tattoo. The crew of the Coelacanth call her Zhe. At this point, the story takes off and the reader finds themselves sucked into the plot. This is a rich reward for the struggle to date. The tale now gets very tasty.
The technical issues about how to board another submarine, navigate a submarine, the deployment of remote personal communications and decrypt hard-drives are never addressed directly by Fallows. They go on but as a given background. Techies might find this annoying but for us romantics, it is a blessing. We get the gist of what is going on, allowing our imaginations to go on a holiday.
Daniels wants to decrypt the hard-drives before handing them over to the Guild, but finds it beyond the competence of his crew. This leaves them with the choice of either trading them back to the Republic or going to Abantos, a criminal city to find capable cryptologists. Zhe discourages them from trading with the Republic, so they embark upon a journey through the Abyss to Abantos. This is where the story really starts. It is very good fun.
Fallows has an axe to grind with corrupt leadership. She has my ready support in that opinion. The individuals she describes are people you can meet today. Her description of Abantos as a place divided between criminal gangs has a distinct resonance with our own cities, and there, joy of joys, we meet a tart with a heart!
In her treatment of Zhe there are reflections about mind control and its destructive consequences, but above all else the denouement is all about the lie which flows from hierarchy. There is a distinct touch of George Orwell’s `1984’ in the conclusion, so the next time I am in the Chestnut Tree Café I will raise a glass of Victory gin to the erstwhile Kelly Fallows.