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A Darkling Sea

3.74  ·  Rating Details ·  1,577 Ratings  ·  300 Reviews
On the planet Ilmatar, under a roof of ice a kilometer thick, a team of deep-sea diving scientists investigates the blind alien race that  lives below. The Terran explorers have made an uneasy truce with the Sholen, their first extraterrestrial contact: so long as they don’t disturb the Ilmataran habitat, they’re free to conduct their missions in peace.

But when Henri Kerle
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 28th 2014 by Tor Books
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Dec 12, 2015 Brad rated it liked it
"... the closest we can come to Star Trek without paying royalties."


So we've got a three way that includes intelligent fish, six-legged cultural purists, and... yeah, you got it... upstart humans. No conflict to start with, mostly just a fact-finding mission trying to get to know the locals without interfering, just like the Prime Directive says, and then we've got COMPLICATIONS.

You know. A bit of curious murder by a people who don't know it's murder. They're just curious. No biggie. I c
Feb 08, 2014 Jason rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-books, read-2014
4.5 Stars

A Darkling Sea by James Cambias is a great Science Fiction first contact type of novel that is one great adventure. This book is special because of the amazing world that Cambias has created. The underwater setting is a-mazing and brings a lot of cool details and situation to the story.

This story works because of the skill of the author. Cambias does not over bloat this novel with too much backstory. He gives us what we need to know to make the plot work. The cast of scientists that are
Dec 27, 2015 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: scifi, 2fiction, 1audio
4.5 stars, great first contact novel. Very well written & Cambias was careful to set the stage properly for all the parts to come together in a logical, almost inevitable manner. It was great the way he showed the psychology of the different aliens - not terribly different from ours, but enough to be alien & yet understandable. Some drives transcend that, though. It made sense in his world, a very different kind.

The slow build up dragged a bit in the middle, but the end was great - espec
May 21, 2016 Jon rated it really liked it
Part “Lawrence of Arabia” and part “the Abyss”, A Darkling Sea is a good 1st contact novel with an interesting setting and some excellent world building. Ending up on the ballots of a number of sci-fi awards recently, the novel takes place on Ilmatar, a large moon orbiting a gas giant in a distant solar system. Building on the most recent speculations about Jupiter’s moon, Europa, the author envisions a world where a kilometer thick ice shelf covers an active ocean underneath it. An ocean where ...more
Mar 08, 2014 Jennifer rated it really liked it
James L. Cambias's achievement with A Darkling Sea is not to be underestimated. He's created two alien species, and then populated them with characters that are both unique individuals and bound by the societies they inhabit. The story raises questions about colonization and imperialism, and resists the urge to dispense easy answers. I liked how the central conflict grew out of misunderstandings and bad behavior in both the Sholen and human delegations, and I appreciated how the female character ...more
Feb 02, 2014 Emily rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-fiction, 2014
This novel of first contact and inter-species conflict was done from all angles, and it really grabbed me. I know giving the alien perspective as well as the human has been done before, but Cambias did a great job creating two distinct alien cultures. It wasn't just a story of humans meeting aliens; it was humans meeting aliens even though they've agreed with another race of aliens not to make contact. The ethical questions brought up by the resulting conflict makes for a thought-provoking read. ...more
This was underwhelming for me, probably more of a 2.5 stars rather than 3.

The aliens in the book, the 'ilmatarians' (simply called 'Adults' by the aliens themselves) and the Sholen were definitely the high point of the book. The world building was interesting, and the aliens weird enough and similar-but-different enough to be believable. Pretty much all intelligent sentient life is likely to have some commonality, and the book portrayed that well. The ilmatarian number-language was a neat idea,
Jeff Raymond
Dec 15, 2013 Jeff Raymond rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-sci-fi
Man, this was fun.

Those who have been keeping up with my reviews or know me and my book preferences know I'm a sucker for a first contact novel. This is not quite a first contact for humans as much as it is for the Ilmatarans, as the first alien race humans encountered weren't too pleased about human voyaging, so the humans aren't allowed to interact with other species. The Ilmataran creatures, however, inadvertently end up capturing and dissecting one of the humans, causing an interstellar conf
Michael Cummings
Oct 24, 2013 Michael Cummings rated it liked it
This book began with a great hook - an office bet on who can find the most interesting and unique ways to kill media darling, showman, and all around jerk to be around, Henri Kerlerec. Nobody foresaw the agency of his death (less than a dozen pages into the book) at the claws of the native Ilmatar, who naively dissect him thinking him an unintelligent animal.

And then the book trips over itself for a while. Cambias becomes lost in setting the stage, something he could have forgone without any los
Dec 30, 2013 Kelly rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-fiction
A Darkling Sea by James Cambias has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever seen:

"By the end of his second month at Hitode Station, Rob Freeman had already come up with 85 ways to murder Henri Kerlerec."

The following few paragraphs expand on the statement and the first chapter settles the bet. The pool and the participation of all the crew also sets the tone for the novel. It’s Science Fiction with a good dose of humour.

Set deep beneath the ocean of a far flung planet, A Darkling Sea explores a
Jan 28, 2014 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Six-legged aliens, deep sea aliens, crocodile hunters
I still remember James Cambias from his GURPS days. A lot of RPG authors try to break into mainstream publishing, and not many succeed. Kudos to him! And A Darkling Sea looked right up my alley: space adventure with a tale of alien contact, involving multiple alien races.

Humans, having discovered FTL travel, are currently sharing the universe (or at least our little corner of it) with the Sholen, a race that is significantly more technologically advanced than humanity, but has not fought a war i
Jan 28, 2014 Nerdsfeather rated it it was amazing
Questions of how sentient alien species might behave, and how we might interact with them, provide some of the more fruitful avenues for social science fictional exploration. Ursula LeGuin's Hainish novels are without a doubt the paradigmatic examples of the anthropological approach, but you can also count Ian M. Banks' The Player of Games, Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series or basically anything involving the Prime Directive in the Star Trek universe as well.

A Darkling Sea is James Cambias' de
Adventures in SciFi Publishing Podcast
Review by Peter at Adventures in Scifi Publishing:

There are many reasons to enjoy science fiction. If hard science fiction is your thing, read how Kim Stanley Robinson extrapolates our current technology to posit a utopian future. Or if you prefer social science fiction, pick up a novel by Ursula K. LeGuin and see how she integrates anthropology into fictional worlds as if they were as familiar as our own. But if the “science” in science fiction bores you, there’s still plenty left to enjoy. Jam
Really enjoyed this, read it in one day. Loved the ending!
Looking forward to more adventure in this universe (please?!)
4.25 stars

This standalone alien contact novel is a fast-moving and fun read. It takes place on an icy moon called Ilmatar (which is very much like Europa) in a far off star-system, where a gruesome first contact accident leads to a multi-species diplomatic incident.

I can't help but think of this as Vernor-Vinge-lite, in a good way. In half the page-count of a sprawling novel like A Deepness in the Sky or A Fire Upon the Deep, Cambias tells a story similar to both (but far less complex) about hum
Jan 04, 2017 Cheryl rated it did not like it
Abandoned at 11% mark. I couldn't get into it. The writing is poor and the character development is not too good.
Jamie Collins
3.5 stars. This is a pretty cool first-contact sci-fi story, set in an ice-covered ocean on a small moon in another solar system. A human science team is covertly studying the lobster-like indigenous species when they are challenged by the arrival of a mission from another space-faring race, who disapprove of the human “contamination”.

The most striking feature of the book is its plain prose, which is off-putting at first. We get the point of view of two alien species related in a matter-of-fact
Feb 20, 2014 Andrea rated it liked it
Shelves: library-requests
Alien contact with a cast of not-very alien aliens. Changing body parts to lobster-type parts does not an alien make, nor does communication by sexuality.
Nothing earth shattering in this novel.

And I wonder why all the ARC recipients post glowing reviews. Sense of obligation?
Thomas Wagner
Feb 20, 2014 Thomas Wagner rated it liked it
It's only when you open a new SF novel and discover that it's an unabashedly old-school story of scientific exploration and alien first contact that you realize just how rare stories like these, that the field was once simply crawling with, have become. The principal appeal of the debut effort of James L. Cambias is its evocation of the hard SF of yesteryear, its fond embrace of the Analog storytelling ethos, and ideas about alien culture and civilization echoing those of writers like Pohl, Nive ...more
Nov 05, 2015 Chip rated it really liked it
The first half of this book has its faults - too generic of characters, slow plot that doesn't go anywhere, etc. But the second half is almost like a different book. I enjoyed the underwater aliens but the spacefaring aliens could have been done better. There are a number of times the book stumbles or explores a tangent plot without adding to the book. And too often, the characters will have a leap of intuition with too little information given to them. But overall, the book is very good read.
Brian Staveley
[Review of an ARC]

If you like exotic alien races, undersea adventure, and first-contact stories, this book is for you. Great aliens (including a sort of sentient, blind beluga/lobster hybrid) and a growing sense of menace kept me eagerly flipping the pages right up to the end. Among the many take-aways: you never want to be vivisected by curious aliens who confuse you with other non-sentient life forms...

Patrick S.
Sep 24, 2015 Patrick S. rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. Within it are not one, but two of the most unique and well-developed alien cultures in all of sci-fi, right up there with the Tines of Vinge's A FIRE UPON THE DEEP, Niven's Pierson's Puppeteers of RINGWORLD, and the Piggies of OSC's SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD. It's seriously a clinic on writing realistic alien races.

I really, really hope Tor greenlights a sequel. I can't wait to step back into this world.
Tudor Ciocarlie
A fun book. Unfortunately, because the aliens are more human than the human beings (both because they are thinking like a human and because the human characters haven't got much depth), fun is only thing that I can say about this debut novel. But A Darkling Sea was interesting enough that I will read the next novel by this author.
3/5 Rating Originally posted at https://mylifemybooksmyescape.wordpre...

A good sci-fi story about first contact.

When I think of classic sci-fi, first-contact stories are among the first that come to mind. A Darkling Sea is story about first-contact, but do not think that this will be like all the others you may have read. What separates A Darkling Sea from classics and other stories are two things: the situation and circumstances in which the contact is made, and (what is the greatest strength)
Feb 14, 2017 Joanna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nifty aliens, but I didn't care for the darkening plotline.
Nicole Lisa
Nov 09, 2014 Nicole Lisa rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2014
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Very fun, quick read.

I loved the exploration of a Ganymede-like world and it's potential inhabitants. So, this was pure imagination candy for me.
Jessica Strider
Jun 23, 2015 Jessica Strider rated it it was amazing
Pros: great world-building, fascinating alien species, diverse characters, interesting plot, stand-alone novel


An accident occurs among the humans observing the native intelligent life forms deep in the oceans under the ice of the distant planet Ilmatar. An alien race older than humans, the Sholen, have decreed that no contact be made with the natives for fear of human colonization. They send a ship to the planet to verify that no rules have been broken, but their inner politics dictate tha
Jul 24, 2015 Ryan rated it liked it
A Darkling Sea
James L. Cambias
Read it in paper-back at 352 pages.

G$$ got his second pick for the year and promptly steered us away from the previous months noir selection. He didn't even pick a book that took place on earth. Instead we were off to the frozen water planet of Ilmatar with giant crustaceans as hosts. Excitement ensues.

So Ilmatar is a place off in space and their biome is all underwater, deep underwater with a layer of ice to boot. Humans are there studying the local populace, a cro
Jo  (Mixed Book Bag)
Feb 03, 2014 Jo (Mixed Book Bag) rated it it was amazing

I hesitated before I requested A Darkling Sea. I love Science Fiction but when I read that it all took place on one planet and under the ice I was afraid it would not match my reading tastes. I was very wrong. A Darkling Sea is everything Science Fiction should be.

There are aliens and not just one group but two. When you add in the humans you have three different races mixed into a very interesting and dangerous adventure.

Cambias came up with some very interesting aliens. The native Ilmatarans
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I grew up in New Orleans, was educated at Chicago, and currently live in New England.
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