Release Date: March 2021
Publisher: Clarkesworld Magazine
Genre: Science Fiction
“As the people began to die, desperation drove us to the depths of the sea for cures. We mined mineral-rich vents until the tube worms went extinct, stripped polymetallic nodule fields bare, squeezed sludge out of sea sponges to treat the new diseases, these monstrous incurable plagues, born from our new climate, that spread through our air. But the people still died. So we dug even deeper…”
Arula Ratnakar’s novela Submergence is about a living scientist named Nithya, a dead scientist named Noor, and a dark conspiracy hidden away in memories. In the future, humankind has destroyed much of the natural environment, causing new diseases and disasters. In an attempt to cure these new illnesses, scientists have gone to the ocean floor, spreading chaos and destruction along the way.
After Noor’s death, Nithya gains access to her memories, not just seeing them but experiences them as if she was Noor. She relives Noor’s interactions with her young daughter who has taken a vow of silence and non-expression in protest against the desecration of the planet by heedless politicians, as well as learns more about the deep sea sponges that were supposed to offer the cure for human diseases but may be causing more harm than good. The more she experiences, the more secrets she uncovers and the harder it becomes to tell who is Nithya and who is Noor. Ratnakar digs into some weighty topics. Issues of consent, identity, family and relationships, personhood and sentience, and scientific ethics push the characters in ways they aren’t always prepared for.
I’m not much of a science person, not the super technical stuff anyway. I don’t particularly care about the nitty gritty of how the science in science fiction works or the underpinning technology. There is a lot of science in Submergence, but fortunately for me, Ratnakar is really good at writing hard science in such a way that it doesn’t overwhelm the reader. It’s present and overt without dominating the story. In other words, readers like me who don’t want a bunch of science bogging down their science fiction will be just as satisfied as readers who do.
This was a thought-provoking, well-written story that I thoroughly enjoyed. I look forward to reading more of Arula Ratnakar’s writing in the future.
Read this story at clarkesworldmagazine.com.
Purchase a copy of Clarkesworld March 2021, Issue 174.