Descending into the Dark Depths

Quite a bit about bottom feeders and spiders

Issue #40, Monday 6 March 2023

Bookish News

New and Upcoming Releases

Victory City by Salman Rushdie

The epic tale of a woman who breathes a fantastical empire into existence, only to be consumed by it over the centuries - from the transcendent imagination of Booker Prize-winning, internationally bestselling author Salman Rushdie.

Brilliantly styled as a translation of an ancient epic, this is a saga of love, adventure, and myth that is in itself a testament to the power of storytelling.

I haven’t read very much of Rushdie’s work, I’m afraid. I think I’ve only read Shalimar the Clown. He’s an author I really should spend some more time on. This one certainly looks interesting.

Buy it at Readings


Stella Prize Longlist Announced

The Stella Prize is Australia’s premier literary award for women writers. It covers both fiction and nonfiction titles. There are 12 books on this year’s longlist:

More information

My Reading

Completed Since Last Issue

I have to say that my rate of reading has slowed down considerably over the last couple of months. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but unless I get back into it, I doubt that I’ll be hitting my Goodreads Reading Challenge this year.

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

I hadn’t come across this Australian writer before, but my ebook retailer Kobo was promoting a very cheap deal on both this book, and its sequel, Retribution, so I thought I would give it a go, and I’m pleased that I did.

Unforgiven is structured in a way I see quite commonly now: two points of view, one told in the first person and one told in the third person.

Here, the first-person narrative is that of Lexi Winter, who it turns out is a sex worker, but a very smart, tough character, hardened by life experiences which we slowly discover. She drinks far too much. She’s also very clever with computers. There are obvious similarities with Lisbeth Salander, the main character in Stieg Larsen’s Millennium trilogy which begins with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But this book is by no means a direct steal of Larsen’s work, though it does share the theme of the sexual abuse of children.

As well as her sex work, Lexi uses her knowledge of computers and familiarity with the “Dark Web” to help track down abusers, often by pretending to be an 11 or 12 year old girl, attracting potential groomers on social media. She’s doing this to help her younger sister Bailee, who works for a social services department as a caseworker. Bailee wants to get knowledge of abusers who may be targeting young victims who have been referred to her because they are in vulnerable situations.

The other storyline, written in the third person, centres on Detective Inspector Rachael Langley, now in her late 40s. Twenty years previously, she tracked down a pedophile and murderer calling himself “The Spider” and had him imprisoned for life. His name was Thomas Biddle, and he’s still in jail, though now reportedly suffering from terminal cancer. After a retrospective television special about the case, however, Langley is contacted by an anonymous caller who insists that he is in fact The Spider and that she got it wrong twenty years ago. He appears to know many details which give credence to this claim, and then he tells her he’s going to commit another abduction and murder of a child, which indeed he does.

The investigations of these two people, Lexi Winter and Rachel Langley, eventually come together in a satisfying way, and they join forces to track down the man claiming to be The Spider.

This is a fast-paced thriller, and I enjoyed it a lot. Both of the main characters are interesting and are far from stereotypical. Lexi in particular has considerable depth and I liked her cynicism and scepticism of the police procedures.

I do get rather irritated, though, when authors make it appear that a “hacker” can quickly break the passwords on people’s computers using some sort of software magic or sheer genius. In reality, it doesn’t work that way. The majority of password breaches are done through slow, patient social engineering or phishing.

Setting that aside, however, I’ll be rolling on to the sequel, Retribution to see how that pans out.

Alien Oceans by Kevin Peter Hand

This is an excellent piece of non-fiction scientific writing discussing the prospects of finding life in the solar system, concentrating on the new understanding that several moons of the larger planets may have oceans of liquid water beneath crusts of ice.

The author writes very clearly for a popular audience and sets out the evidence we have so far which indicates that moons of Jupiter and Saturn like Europa, Ganymede, Titan and Enceladus have deep oceans of salty water below the frozen outer surfaces which we see. He explains why such moons, even far from the sun, can be warm enough inside for liquid water to exist. He raises the prospect that some of these oceans may be in contact with a rocky core, raising the prospect that hydrothermal vents may exist which could provide life with nutrients.

He describes the underwater expeditions on our own planet which discovered such oases of life on Earth: thriving colonies of living creatures far removed from any light coming from the Sun but subsisting on the chemicals and energy coming from hydrothermal vents. He himself has participated in such deep dives, and in fact the book opens with a dramatic passage:

We were stuck on the bottom. Batteries were running low. Our air was running out. We had no way to communicate to the other submersible or to the team on the boat some 10,000 feet above us. We were nestled in the metal sphere of our tiny submersible, perched on some rocks at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
This was my first trip to the ocean floor, and it had the makings to be my last.

He extends this experience and knowledge to explain why there is every likelihood that such vents exist on icy moons not only in our own Solar System, but around other stars as well. Perhaps the most common habitat for life in the universe is in such places, and life on the outer surface of a planet the rarity.

I found this to be a really interesting book, and I learned a lot about planetology, biology and our understanding of how life functions and evolves.

Currently Reading

Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down

This won last year’s Miles Franklin Award. I’m a fair way through the book as I write, and it certainly seems like it was a worthy winner. It’s fairly harrowing though, and not a cheerful read. So far I can’t work out why it was also nominated for the Davitt Award for crime fiction written by Australian women. Depends how you define “crime fiction”, I guess.

Waiting on the Shelf

The latter two are borrowed from the library, and it’s unlikely I’ll get through both before they have to go back.

And that’s it for this issue. See you next time.

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