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A Darkling Sea

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  971 ratings  ·  204 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 Kerler
Hardcover, First Edition, 352 pages
Published January 28th 2014 by Tor Books (first published 2014)
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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
Jeff Raymond
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
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
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
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
Michael Cummings
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
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
May 10, 2015 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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?
Really enjoyed this, read it in one day. Loved the ending!
Looking forward to more adventure in this universe (please?!)
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...

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.
Jessica Strider
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
All in all it was a pretty good science fiction story of interstellar exploration, inter-species conflicts due to differences in ideology and biology and of first contact with an alien race that was both interesting and well-developed in accordance to John W. Campbell's preferences on the subject.
Plotwise the book might be a bit predictable and not that original in places, but the more than decent worldbuilding that manages to both introduce us to the unique Illmataran society and the everymen h
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 Seais story about first-contact, but do not think that this will be like all the others you may have read.What separatesA 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) the
Johan Haneveld
This SF/adventure novel was right up my alley. It's high concept space opera, dealing with different civilisations, with vastly different philosphical outlooks, and the future of human presence in space, but on a small stage: a small, cramped research base on the bottom of a toxic alien ocean, hidden under a kilometer of ice. The human expedition on the alien moon Ilmatar is operating under severe restrictions by the more powerful alien race of the Sholens, large, six limbed furries terribly afr ...more
On the icy moon Ilmatar, a group of human researchers is studying the intelligent lifeforms that live at the bottom of its sea. When a tragic misunderstanding results in the death of one of the humans, they draw the attention of the Sholen, a previously-encountered race driven by a code of non-interference. They demand the humans withdraw from Ilmatar, and all traces of their presence be erased...

A Darkling Sea is a fairly light, quick-moving tale of first contact in which none of the three conf
Thilani Samarasinha
I started this because I love "first-contact" Sci-fi. The opening chapter was fun and well written and had lots of promise.. and then he introduced the aliens and wrecked it. Why in gods name would crustaceans living below the ice on a distant planet be so similar to humanity that they are basically humans in lobster suits? They think, feel and behave very much like humans. The idea of lobsters going to conferences and making presentations was so ridiculous i had to force myself to read past tha ...more
Shannon Flowers
A Darkling Sea was a very different type of story for me. I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi books. Not that this was incredibly “hard sci-fi”, but it dealt more with science than I typically read.

The story follows some Humans investigating an oceanic world with blind, underwater inhabitants, the Ilmatarans. Given permission from another extraterrestrial group, the Sholen, they are there to document the Ilmatarans and life underneath the ice cap covering the planet. The Humans are given leeway wi
Wow, what a fantastic SF novel this is: some of the best world-building and credible aliens I have encountered in ages, all wrapped up in an an intense thriller-type plot that will hook you until the last page.

The set-up is ingenious: humanity has established an exploratory base on the ice-world Ilmatar, to explore the lobster-like aliens who live in its ocean depths. However, when a member of the team is killed by the aliens (dissected, actually), it sets off an interstellar alarm bell, and the

This has heart, humor, alien culture, complexity, and for a debut work, surprised me. You need to like learning about aliens, you need to not mind that they talk, and you need to like stuff like Star Trek -- as in, when humanistic aliens talk or discuss or contemplate, their mannerisms don't make you bat an eye.

The world-building and culture of the Ilmatarans is great, as is the politics between three races of beings (including us), however, a saggy middle act and a rushed ending make me u
Thomas Wagner
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
Jo  (Mixed Book Bag)

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
Alex McGilvery
I love the premise of A Darkling Sea. The scientists are in a high pressure environment under the ice on a moon circling a planet far from our solar system. As in any closed environment, personality conflicts are a major issue, and one way to deal with a hated conflict is to talk about all the ways to kill them. In this case Henri Kerlerec who is a media hog and very annoying person. Henri hatches a plan to visit the Ilmataran, the aliens the humans are there to study. The rules are simple. No i ...more
Fantasy Literature
Ever since I was a kid stealing my dad’s sci-fi books the moment he laid them down for a minute (silly, silly man), I’ve loved First Contact stories and still fondly remember reading Murray Leinster’s classic, entitled, shockingly, “First Contact.” So when I was offered a chance to read A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias, which is at its heart a first contact story, I jumped. And I’m glad I did, as it turned out to be a mostly well-executed story with a fully realized alien race and a compelling ...more
Such good science fiction and a marvelous first contact story. I'll be reviewing this book later, officially, for Bitter Empire, but I find myself talking about it a lot in class because the aliens are very unique and the politics very REAL. I enjoyed the heck out of this book.
Kelly Flanagan
This book didn't really do it for me. I liked the undersea aspect and was really interested in the aliens but this book is more fighting and political haggling than it is about the cool aliens the humans are supposed to be secretly observing.
Bogdan Lascu
This is not a bad book, but it isn`t extraordinary either.

But i liked a lot the universe and the underwater race, The Ilmatars, and the ideea behind the First Contact with an alien race.

I had a lot of time without reading a real science fiction novel and this one made the transition very good. From fantasy to science fiction that is. But this book it`s a fast reading one and I haven't any problems with it.

Also this is my first review of a book on Goodreads in English. It`s a short one but I had
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I grew up in New Orleans, was educated at Chicago, and currently live in New England.
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