Book Review: The Atomic Sea – Jack Conner

I tend not to finish books that I’m not enjoying on the basis that life is too short and there are plenty of others out there that I will like.

To date, I have not reviewed a book I haven’t finished as I thought it might be unfair on the author and I would leave myself open to suggestions that if I had read it to the end I would have enjoyed it.

However, a WordPress contact suggested that I write a review and explain why I didn’t finish the book and that is what I am doing here.

Jack Conner hails from Austin, Texas and has written a number of popular fantasy/alternative fiction books.

This is by no means a bad book and I enjoyed parts of it. The idea of the Atomic Sea itself, a churning, boiling, radioactive ocean full of magic and nightmares is excellent. The early part of the book, set on board navy ship G.S. Maul is captivating. Terrified sailors and whalers carry out their duties whilst attempting to shield themselves from the contaminated water and the creatures that emerge from it.

I was drawn into the story and was convinced that I’d stumbled across a great find.

The central character is naval surgeon, Dr Avery, a 42 year old man with a comb-over. Dr Avery is a slightly unusual leading figure and maybe he is designed to appeal to fantasy fans who are in the mould of Comic-Book Guy from The Simpsons. Dr Avery is also the ‘on call’ sexual partner of cigar smoking, no-nonsense ship’s captain Sheridan, another interesting character.

The ship is part of the naval forces of Ghenisa, which is in a desperate fight for survival against the forces of neighbouring Octung. To me, Octung sounds like a cross between the Scottish exclamation ‘Och’ and the German word Achtung (baby!). Because of this I found it difficult to take the name seriously.

I know it can be easy to mock the names in SF and fantasy books but there were a few incredible names in the book that made me roll my eyes, Muirblaag being one. In the book, this is the name of a man/fish hybrid but it should surely be a sound effect for somebody vomiting violently. MUIRBLAAG !!…. sorry, too much to drink last night.

Dr Avery discovers that the ship, and Ghenisa itself, is packed with spies and saboteurs. Almost simultaneously, a mysterious woman is found in the sea who has supernatural powers and seems to offer the chance of ending the war.

The action then moves away from the sea to land and became, for me, less interesting and more of a conventional fantasy quest style book. This is the first in a series of books and it felt as though much of the story was either scene-setting or ‘filler’ to ensure that an epic of the required length could be produced.

The plot involves a lot of chasing and attempts to make contact with ‘friendly’ gods whilst avoiding the agents of Octung and malevolent gods.

Unfortunately, my interest faded when I was around 2/3rds through the book and I abandoned it. I had carried on reading to that point to see if the story would return to the Atomic Sea with all of the mystery and atmosphere it promised but, sadly, it didn’t.

Whilst interesting, the characters are not particularly likeable or sympathetic. Some appeared just as ciphers or makeweights for the band starting on the quest.

In summary, I feel there was a very good story idea here but it was lost by spreading it across a multi-part epic rather than just concentrating on what could have been one cracking book.