The deep space mining vessel, Ariel, has become home to the socially awkward Sean. Once a man of wealth and privilege, he came to the Ariel desperate and on the run and found the family he never knew he needed. Now he can’t imagine being anywhere else. But when a distress call from a crippled ship brings him face to face with the past, Sean finds himself trapped between the world he fled and the future he wants.
Joel Riley has served as Captain to the Ariel for fifteen years. Mining is the only life he knows and the Ariel is the only place he calls home. He didn’t think much of the young doctor he took onboard three years ago, but Sean has proven himself invaluable and become a trusted member of Joel’s crew. He can’t say the same for the man they rescue from a shipwreck. David Greene knows all of Sean’s secrets and is perfectly willing to hang his old friend out to dry if it means getting what he wants. Confronted with the loss of everything they hold dear, Joel and Sean must forget the past and decide upon their future.
Deep was a wonderful novella that I really wanted more of right from the start. The world building is somewhat limited, but the author has done a good job of describing the otherworldliness of the oceanic space that surrounds the Ariel. Mining the ocean of the moon Titan is far from safe and we’re given a good sense of just how much the crew of the Ariel depends upon on one another for survival. The easy, comfortable relationship between them is evident, even if the characters themselves are a little flat. The exceptions to that last statement are Joel and Sean. While they aren’t drawn as completely as I would prefer, they do have more depth than any of the other characters. The tension and eventual passion between them feels realistic and natural. Joel’s gruff devotion to his crew and to the Ariel meshes well with Sean’s desire for a new start and earnest need for family. We are given a bit of information about Sean’s past, but Joel is more of a mystery. But while I wanted to know more about all the characters, the lack of information didn’t distract enough to pull me out of the story. The action and pacing are fairly strong for the first two thirds of the book. Things slow down a bit during the last third, but not so drastically as to become frustrating.
The only real stumbling point is the adversary, David Greene. He seems almost pathetically evil and his motivations are pretty weak. He comes off as more of a cartoon rather than a realistic threat to the crew of the Ariel and his presence feels forced. Had the author chosen to expound on the natural dangers of ocean mining, this would have provided a more vibrant sense of peril than the rather weakly drawn Greene.
Deep is one of the few novellas I have read that felt fully formed within the scope of its shortened form. I wanted more of the story because I was enjoying it, not because it needed it, and I find that to be a rarity among novellas. Apparently Deep is the author’s first published work and given how much fun I had, I’ll definitely be looking forward to future works by A.L. Bates. If you enjoy science fiction and want to root for a rag-tag crew that definitely captures your attention, then Deep might be for you.