by Steve Alten
Kindle/Kobo edition, A&M Publishing
Review by Pat Black
You know what a Meg is now, don’t you? No, not Pete’s daughter off Family Guy… no, not the actress who went a bit funny that time on Parky…
Yep, you’ve got it now. Giant feck-off shark from prehistory, eating people. That was the working title for The Meg, I think.
God bless Jason Statham – the movie is doing well. I think we might have a series on our hands. Or at any rate, a sequel. The ultimate goal for Megheads has to be seeing The Trench up on the big screen.
On the page, we’re up to the fifth sequel now in Steve Alten’s Meg series, with Meg: Generations. I am old enough to have been in on it from the start – yeah, sprinkle that on top of your avocado on toast, millennials – having taken a bite of the original Meg 20 years ago this very month.
I’m delighted that the Philadephia author has finally seen his creation hit the big screen. It seemed like we’d never get there. Development hell is the phrase, alright; Steve Alten had to put up with two full decades of it.
Quick recap: megalodons are giant prehistoric sharks which died out tens of thousands of years ago. The only remnants of these animals are their fossilised teeth, which are longer than Michael Myers’ top-performing filleter, and twice as lethal. They’re ancestors of today’s great white shark, judging by the shape of the teeth, only in XXXXL, super-Jacamo size.
In Alten’s world, these sharks still live in the sunless depths of the Mariana Trench, which sounds a little bit like a sandwich that makes you feel dirty but also satisfied. The trench is in fact the deepest point of the known ocean. Megalodons aren’t the only nasty prehistoric surprise slinking about down there. We also meet a variety of dinosaurs, such as kronosaurs, mosasaurs and, star prize, the Liopleurodon, the largest predator known to science. In Alten’s books, these animals reach the upper surface of the seas and merrily munch on people. They’re also chased by people with lots of money – Arab oil tycoons, Russian oligarchs and Chinese tech barons – as coveted exhibits in giant theme park lagoons. Except they have a habit of escaping and eating spectators, running wild, uh-oh, full speed ahead on the boat captain, etc etc.
Ace submersible pilot Jonas Taylor is our link between all six books. He’s getting a bit older now, but he’s still handy at the joystick of special Manta submarines, specially designed, it seems, to be chased by giant prehistoric sea beasts. The latest model of the Mantas come equipped with lasers (makes Dr Evil air speech marks). Yep, he went there.
Like most dads, Jonas is called upon when his family needs a hand or gets in trouble, or needs a shelf putting up. Trouble comes most often. His son David is a chip off the old block, getting into the same sort of scrapes with aquatic predators as his dad. Jonas’s wife Terry is also on board for the ride, as is the uncouth helicopter pilot James “Mac” Mackriedes, a useful friend who, you suspect, could be doing with another wipe or two of a morning.
We catch up with the action right where Nightstalkers finished off, as David Taylor helps his former squeeze Jacqueline Buchwald capture a junior Liopleurodon for UAE-based, super-rich backers. However, they also captured a livvyatan melvillei, a Miocene whale with similar bad manners to his prehistoric bros. This ‘roided up Moby Dick manages to burst out of its holding pen inside a cargo ship, inadvertently releasing the Liopleurodon. Carnage ensues once again.
David is tasked with recapturing the Lio; meanwhile, Jonas Taylor has more grounded problems to solve, when it turns out his wife Terry has terminal cancer. It’s just as well that one of the prehistoric fish to be found in the Panthalassa Sea – a giant underground sea haven for all the monsters to be found in these books – harbours the cure for cancer in its liver, then…
On top of this, there’s another Megalodon problem – or two, to be precise. The offspring of Bela and Lizzy, the Meg twins, are also out and about, hunting in pairs off the coast of northern Canada and causing havoc among the human and orca population alike. These two killers must also be rounded up and brought back to the Tanaka Institute to keep the books balanced for the Taylor family.
Meg: Generations soon finds a groove and provides plentiful meg-dinosaur carnage for us to get our teeth into. Again, Alten relishes scenes of peril where hapless humans come into contact with the monsters – this “guess the redshirt” game is one of the key pleasures in this great big dirty pleasure of a book.
There’s a cage diving trip involving great white sharks which has an unexpected visitor. There’s a laugh-out-loud moment where a woman seeks revenge on one monster shark with a shotgun for having eaten her friend, with predictable consequences. In the creepiest scene, two characters we’ve come to know, but not like, are removed from the plot, and existence, by a creature with unexpected land-lubbing skills on the Farallon Islands. And best of all, one of the Megalodons discovers it doesn’t like the taste of human flesh… meaning it only chews people up and spits them out, rather than ingesting them completely. That’s polite for a Megalodon.
There’s some more delicious monster-mashing as two of the oceanic titans go head-to-head, a rematch I’ve been waiting for since book four. But there are even more incredible prehistoric creatures to be found in the deep, after Jonas Taylor and friends are forced to go back into the Trench one last time… and then beyond, down into the Panthalassa Sea.
We finish on a cliffhanger, which would be annoying if Alten didn’t have book seven, Meg: Purgatory, ready to go shortly. As ever, I’ll be there…
The book has a preoccupation with real estate, legal entanglements and other contractual headaches which made me think that Alten had to contend with similar issues in real life while he was writing. There’s a comic moment near the end where we’re meant to be on a knife-edge, wondering whether a lawyer is going to be able to send signed paperwork off on a fax machine before a giant underwater bastard breaks free from its pen. I wasn’t interested in this at all, although I suppose Alten wanted to inject a sense of realism into proceedings. If someone was eaten at a theme park, you can bet that there’d be some litigation to follow.
Other than that, it’s terrific fun, a book I cut through in no time at all. I didn’t use the word “guilty” as an adjective for “pleasure” above, in a space where it might have fitted well. That’s deliberate, because I don’t feel guilty about liking this series. Meg is my “thing” – a wee step back into cosy, warm bath water, like when I splashed around with my dinosaur toys as a wee laddie. I’m chuffed to bits to see Steve Alten’s big fish tale is making a splash with cinema audiences around the world. Who knows, I might even get to see it myself any day now, family life permitting.
In the meantime, there is a job lot of monsters to play around with here. Onwards to book seven, and all-new critters.