“The Swarm” by Frank Schätzing

About the book
A fisherman disappears off the coast of Peru. Nobody sees him go under, and when his canoe is found drifting on the ocean nobody would have believed his disappearance is the start of a disastrous chain of events that threatens to end humanity’s existence on Earth.

Whales and sharks start attacking boats and divers. Mutant crabs full of toxic bacteria crawl up on land, poisoning our drinking water. Genetically deviant deep sea worms are found in bizarre masses on the continental slopes of the world, carrying bacteria that eat their way through the frozen methane, destabilizing the slopes and causing a massive landslide, which in turn sets off the largest tsunami mankind has ever seen across Europe.

A group of scientists from across the world make some startling discoveries that seem to suggest it’s not just nature wreaking havoc. There seems to be a design to the madness, all engineered to keep humans out of the oceans. They will come to discover that the end goal might be even more grim.

My thoughts
The first time I read this book (I think back in 2006 or 2007) I was blown away. Mind-freaking-blown. For the kind of action-packed, cinematic, science fiction book that this is, it was nothing like anything I had ever read before. Reading it this time around I was able to be a bit more level-headed, however, the theme in it is every bit as relevant today as it was then, if not more so, and it still had me at the edge of my seat, biting my nails, turning the page to see what would happen next.

This book is packed full of science. In fact, if I wasn’t such a science geek it might get a little old. Most of it is delivered in lengthy dialogue, where a scientist is asked to explain a certain point to whoever he or she is talking to. It’s also on a level that most people (myself included) won’t be equipped to digest. On the other hand it lends the novel a real sense of authenticity, as well as urgency, considering the topic. I don’t mind. Some people might.

Technically, this book is not a masterpiece, really. The characters are fine, but none of them really pop, and one or two are just plain cliché. In the last 50 or so pages the form of the storytelling changes so dramatically that it becomes a different book entirely, quite jarringly so. It gets diffuse and rambling, a little preachy, and sometimes just plain weird. It’s a real shame that a riveting first 850 odd pages are ended in such a way.

That being said, there are many excellent reasons to read this book.

It’s just the type of science fiction disaster book with aliens (or are they?!) that I love. The first time I wrote that sentence I wrote disaster movie instead of book, and that’s really the way it comes off. It’s like it was written to be turned into a movie (rumor has it that it will, but it’s been in production without progress on IMDB for years, so who knows), with spectacular special effects and loads of action.

Despite it being a ‘save the world’-kind of story, it features a broad range of geographical places, as well as characters from many different parts of the world. No typical US hero à la Bruce Willis in sight. In fact, it’s some 250 pages into the book before the US is even mentioned. Refreshing, especially considering the message of the book.

And speaking of the message, for me, that’s the real reason to read it. This book has a clear message and Schätzing is not shy about broadcasting it: in this world we are all connected, every single living thing, whether animal, vegetable or mineral, and we humans are well on our way of ruining the habitat not only for ourselves, but also for a vast number of other species. Here’s a quote from the book (page 726), that I also have a feeling mirrors the two prevailing views of most people even today:

‘You might think you rule the world, but if you were to go around exterminating microbes, you’d kill this planet. You’d be the ones destroying the Earth, not the yrr. You’d wipe out all the marine life and then —”So darned what?’ Vanderbilt erupted. ‘You pathetic, ignorant, stupid, know-it-all asshole of a scientist. Who gives a toss if a few fish die, so long as we survive —‘

‘But we won’t! Don’t you get it? Life is interconnected.’

Instead of the oceans he could have been writing about the pollinators of the lands today. When was the last time you saw a bee? A butterfly? They’re on a steady decline and heavens help us when they’re all gone. We’re all connected, and we all depend on each other, something we seem to have forgotten. Actually, we depend on them far more than they depend on us. The world will undoubtedly go on just fine without bees and polar bears and 95% of all current species – including humans – but what some people don’t seem to understand is that the human race will not. We’re not ruining the world, we’re ruining our own habitat. But I digress.

If you’re a die-hard climate change denier, entitled, and convinced of humanity’s superiority you probably won’t like this book. Hopefully you’ll read it anyway. Remember, clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. As long as you see things clearly with an open mind and a wide-open heart you will always win.

This is a fast-paced book with a very important message. Despite a sometimes shaky writing technique, I give it .

About the author
Frank Schätzing was born in Cologne on  May 28, 1957. He is a German writer, mostly known for his best-selling science fiction novel The Swarm (2004). Schätzing studied communication studies and later ran his own company, an advertising agency named INTEVI. He became a writer in 1990, and penned several novellas and satires. His first published novel was the historical Tod und Teufel (Death and Devil) in 1995.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Sch%C3%A4tzing

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