Captain Joel Riley hasn’t been with Sean, the soft-spoken medic aboard the Ariel, romantically for very long. Only two weeks actually and Sean has spent part of that healing from his near death experience in the Deep. Still, the bond between Sean and Joel is clearly something special. They can’t keep their hands off one another, but as their season in the Deep comes to an end, Joel wonders if what they have is strong enough to last.
When the Ariel returns to Titan, the celebration of a successful season is marred by a crewmate’s health scare and the realization that Sean’s brother, Mason, is on the planet. With Joel’s attention focused on his ailing sister and juggling dockside politics, Sean is left to confront his past alone. And when it comes down to protecting the Ariel and Joel’s life, Sean doesn’t hesitate. He allows Mason to drag him back into the hellish world that he fought so hard to escape. He never expects Joel to save him, and even if Joel manages to pull off the rescue of the century, there may not be enough of Sean left to save.
Surfacing is the direct sequel to Deep. This story picks up shortly after the events in Deep and, while the transition is seamless, you definitely need to read Deep first in order to fully understand the plot. Again Joel and Sean are the stars of the show and while there are events taking place that involve the rest of the crew, they’re never given our full attention. Overall, Surfacing lacked some of the punch that was so evident in Deep. I think this is because so much of the novella take place planet side and not in the ethereal chasm of oceanic space. As a result, Surfacing felt rather ordinary and predictable at times. That said, the scenes between Joel and Sean work well because as a couple they’re sweet and stupid and you have to adore them for it. They both possess a need to sacrifice themselves for the ones they love and while admirable, there are times you wish they would just talk to one another. But this aspect of their relationship feels real and believable. Despite moving quickly, there’s no feeling of insta-love and its easy to see their feelings for one another have been building for far longer than Joel and Sean were aware of. Despite the fact it’s a novella, Surfacing felt well rounded and complete and while the action was occasionally rushed, it didn’t undermine the overall structure of the story.
Like with Deep, Surfacing’s weakest link is its antagonist, Sean’s brother Mason. He and Sean’s father have put Sean through hell, but Mason comes off as hacky and gross rather than horrifying. Yes he’s evil, but as a reader you can’t take him too seriously despite the absolute seriousness of the situation. And this really hurts his interactions with Sean and tends to leave those scenes feeling emptier than they should.
Surfacing was an enjoyable sequel though it lacked some of Deep’s charm and originality. Joel and Sean still grab our attention and hold on tight, which makes a laughable villain and a hum-drum plot more bearable. Though not as strong as its predecessor, Surfacing is still a well-written novella that sci-fi lovers will enjoy.