Thursday, July 28, 2011

Meg: Hell's Aquarium

Meg: Hell's Aquarium by Steve Alten
Variance Publishing, 2009
 448 pages
ISBN-13: 9781935142041
Meg Series #4

The Philippine Sea Plate... the deepest, most unexplored realm on the planet. Hidden beneath its ancient crust lies the remains of the Panthalassa, an ocean that dates back 220 million years. Vast and isolated, the Panthalassa in inhabited by nightmarish species of sea creatures long believed extinct.
Tanaka Institute, Monterey, CA.:
Angel, the recaptured 76 foot, 100,000 pound Megalodon, has birthed a liter of pups -- five females -- far too numerous and aggressive to keep in one pen. One solution: A Dubai royal prince is building the largest aquarium in the world and seeks to purchase two of the "runts."
The deal hinges on hiring Jonas Taylor's 21 year old son, David, to be their trainer. Jonas reluctantly agrees, and David is off to Dubai for the summer of his life-- --not realizing he is being set-up to lead an expedition that will hunt down and capture the most dangerous creatures ever to inhabit the planet!
My Thoughts:
Hell's Aquarium by Steve Alten is the fourth novel in his Meg series. (There is a fifth novel planned: Meg: Night Stalkers.) Obviously, since this is the fourth outing of Alten's Megalodon, readers of the series know what to expect - bloody attacks and narrow escapes from huge primal predators from the sea.
Hell's Aquarium follows the set pattern of the Meg books and perhaps even ramps the action up a little bit more. It was most certainly packed full of action and was fast-paced. Alten does an admirable job researching his antediluvian creatures from the deep. (I guess I'm accidentally on a cryptozoology kick.)
Alten is certainly a competent writer, but for some reason there seemed to be a few more exclamation points than he normally uses this time out! Perhaps he's taken a hint from Matthew Reilly's playbook, huh! If a gazillion ton creature is chasing another one and our protagonists are right in the path of soon-to-be-carnage, I think we all sort get that it's pretty darn exciting! If it's the megladon ramming it's pen or eating a meal, yeah, that's exciting too, but we don't need quite so many exclamation points!
That minor annoyance aside, I actually got this book because the Movie Dude wanted to read it. I'm going to be passing along all the Meg books to him. While the series was fun, I may be done with it. Not that I want to discourage anyone else from reading the Meg novels. They certainly are full of action, narrow escapes, and bloody carnage. Those of you who want to read the Meg books are going to read them anyway. This was comparably a good addition to the series.
highly recommended for Meg fans.


Encompassing sixty million square miles, the Pacific Ocean is the largest and oldest body of water on our planet, and with an average depth of fourteen thousand feet, it is also the deepest, possessing some of the most biologically diverse creatures ever to inhabit the Earth. prologue, opening

With an average depth of 19,700 feet, the Philippine Sea Basin represents the most unexplored, isolated region on our planet, its tremendous pressure making it inaccessible to all but the world’s deepest-diving submersibles.
Scientists have had to rely on bathymetric equipment in order to obtain any kind of significant data on this ancient geology. In the process, they failed to discover the sea plate’s true anomaly—an isolated sea, hidden deep beneath the basin’s crust, that dates back to the Panthalassa. Harbored within this enclosed habitat is a thriving food chain that has sustained primitive life since the very first marine reptile returned to the ocean over 240 million years ago. pg. 4

At 122 feet, the female pliosaur is longer than a blue whale and just as heavy. Behind its immense crocodile-like skull is a long, muscular torso powered by forward and rear flippers, ending at a stout tail. Incredibly agile for its size, the monster banks hard, performing a series of quick, tight loops around its adversary, ever mindful of the Meg’s fearful set of jaws. Possessing a keen sense of smell, the hunter’s sensory system has locked in on the steady stream of blood pouring from the Megalodon’s partially severed tail. It can feel the pulsating rhythm of the shark’s two-chambered heart, it can taste the hot, pungent blood pumping from the wound.
Barely able to propel itself forward, the wounded megalodon fights to stabilize itself against the circling predator’s powerful current.
What happens next is as fast and furious as it is deadly.
With a colossal thrust of its powerful forward flippers, the one-hundred-ton pliosaur shoots off into the darkness. Then, with the grace of a sea lion, it banks into a 180-degree turn and, circling in from behind, strikes the floundering Megalodon with its open maw, the force matching that of a charging locomotive hitting a stalled car. pg. 8

 Before he can signal Jonas to move the car, twenty-year-old David Taylor steps out of the baggage claim exit, an orange and blue University of Florida duffle bag slung over one broad shoulder. Jonas’s son is wearing a gray Gator’s Football tee-shirt, faded jeans, and sneakers. He is fit and tan, his brown hair long, speckled with golden highlights from being in the sun, his almond-brown eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses. pg. 12

Over the years, Angel had grown into a seventy-four-foot-long, seventy-thousand-pound monster, her presence attracting millions of visitors. Jonas and Terry were married. And then, one day, Angel broke through the giant steel doors of her canal and escaped, making her way across the Pacific to the Mariana Trench, returning to her species’ ancient habitat to mate.
Two decades later, the creature would find its way back home to California waters to birth a second litter of pups in the man-made lagoon.
Masao died tragically in the interim, but Angel’s return gave his institute a new lease on life. With help from the state of California, the Tanaka Lagoon once again became the most popular tourist attraction in the world.
But success is fleeting, bringing its own innate set of problems. Running an aquarium as large as “Angel’s Lair” required an extensive staff: marine biologists and animal husbandry specialists to care for the Meg as well as her new pups; an environmental team charged with maintaining the lagoon and the new Meg Pen; and administrators and public relations staff, security and food handlers. Working with a fully mature, fifty-one-ton Megalodon and her five offspring created its own unique challenges, where any mistake could be a fatal one. pg. 17

“Safety’s the main concern,” Jonas says. “Do we build a plexiglass retaining wall around the main tank? Do we close the lower bowl? How do we prevent Angel from going berserk again?”
“It was the drums.”
All eyes turn to David, who is leaning back in his chair against the far wall. “The underwater acoustics irritated her. She didn’t enter the lagoon to feed; she came in to show you who’s boss.”
Side discussions break out, the staff’s reaction mixed.
Jonas taps his glass again for quiet. “David, Angel was conditioned to respond to those acoustics. I trained her myself. If we can’t regulate her feeding times, she’ll remain in the canal underwater and we’ll have no show.”
“Then use a different stimulus. Re-train her.”
Teddy Badault shakes his head emphatically. “She’s too set in her ways. She is too old to learn anything new.”
“That’s ridiculous,” David retorts. “Two summers ago I worked with a guy in Gainesville who specializes in shark behavior. He told me the Navy recruited him to train sharks as stealth spies in order to follow enemy vessels. Angel’s smarter than any of the sharks he worked with, and just as capable.”
“I agree.” Jonas nods. “Call him. He’s hired.”
“We don’t need him. He taught me everything I need to know. I can set up a light grid along the canal doors and—”
“No. Let the experts handle this.”
“He’s never worked with Angel or her pups. I have!” pg. 36-37

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