“The Swarm” by Frank Schatzing [Translated by Sally-Ann Spencer] (William Morrow, 2006)

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The Swarm is technically not a new book, but was originally published in 2004 in Germany by Frank Schatzing under the title of Der Schwarm, where it immediately climbed onto the bestseller lists and has stayed there ever since.  In 2006 the book was translated and published in Britain and the United States; a paperback edition was released in May, and in August The Swarm will be released in mass market edition.  In the style of Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy starting with Forty Signs of Rain, and Michael Crichton when he was at his best some books ago, and The Day After Tomorrow; this is an eco-thriller set in today’s world with a story that while fantastical is not completely out of the realm of possibility.  The paperback edition is 900 pages long, but the more you read of it, the more you will want it never to end!

It is the present time, the world is pretty much the same place, George Bush is still in office, but there are some very strange things happening in the oceans of our planet.  Fishing boats have begun disappearing off the coast of South America, no pieces or bodies are ever found.  Just off the coast of Vancouver humpback and orca whales that have been entertaining sights for tourists now choose to attack the boats: the humpbacks break them in two, while the orcas move in for the kill.  In France, fresh lobsters that are being prepared for dinners at famous restaurants burst open and exude a gelatinous substance; soon people begin dying.  Around the world ships of all shapes and sizes mysteriously begin disappearing, as do submarines and other submersibles, never to be heard from again.  Eventually a catastrophic event happens that shocks the world: the methane ice supporting the North European continental shelf collapses causing a Tsunami that drowns the west coast of Europe from Norway to Spain, and floods the east coast of Britain from Scotland to London; many people are dead.

The world is in shock, not sure what is happening or what they are going to do.  A crack team of scientists is convened in Canada at a secret location to come up with a solution to these catastrophes.  They include characters who have already had their lives put at risk: Sigur Johanson, a marine scientist who barely escaped the Tsunami; Karen Weaver, a journalist who specializes in marine stories and was rescued from the Tsunami by Johanson; Leon Anawak, a marine biologist who barely survived the whale attack off Vancouver, as well as many others, involving all agencies of the United States government.  They are working against the clock to find out what is going on and to come up with a way to stop this, whatever this is.  Meanwhile the land invasion has begun, with millions upon millions of crabs storming the beaches of the east coast again carrying this mysterious jelly substance; people begin dying in the thousands as the water supply is contaminated.  New York is doomed, Washington DC is next.

While The Swarm features a sizable cast, as these events take place all over the world, Schatzing keeps everyone clear and identifiable, with the reader is left wondering who’s going to make it and who isn’t.  With a depth of research that I haven’t read since World War Z, the author takes the reader into the minds of many people around the world, seeing through their eyes and their culture, as they try to deal with these terrible events.  It is a time to put differences aside, as everyone must work together to come up with a solution before it is too late.  As far as the translation goes, Sally-Ann Spencer has done an incredible job of making the book run fluidly, to the point where I forget this book was originally written in German.

The Swarm is the perfect summer read to cool you down in the heat, but it also opens your mind to ideas and possibilities you never thought of, and with a movie adaptation due in a year or two, this will be the book you’ll read and not be able to forget.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on July 18th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

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