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The Swarm    by Frank Schatzing order for
by Frank Schatzing
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Perennial, 2007 (2006)
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* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

Frank Schatzing's The Swarm was originally published in 2004 in Germany. It immediately climbed onto bestseller lists and has stayed there ever since. In 2006 the book was translated and published in Britain and the United States. In the style of Kim Stanley Robinson's trilogy that started with Forty Signs of Rain, Michael Crichton at his best, and The Day After Tomorrow, this is an eco-thriller that while fantastical is not completely out of the realm of possibility. Sally-Ann Spencer has done an incredible job of the translation, to the point that I forget the book was originally published in German. The paperback edition is nine hundred pages long, but the more you read of it, the more you will want it never to end!

It's the present day, the world is pretty much the same place, George Bush is still in office, but very strange things are happening in the oceans. Fishing boats disappear off the coast of South America. Just off Vancouver, humpback and orca whales attack tourist boats: the humpbacks break them in two, while the orcas move in for the kill. In France, fresh lobsters being prepared at famous restaurants burst open to exude a gelatinous substance; soon people begin dying. Around the world, ships of all shapes and sizes mysteriously disappear, as do submarines and other submersibles. Eventually, a catastrophe shocks the world: the methane ice supporting the North European continental shelf collapses, causing a tsunami that drowns the west coast of Europe from Norway to Spain and floods the east coast of Britain from Scotland to London; many more people die.

The world is in shock, not sure what is happening or what to do. A crack team of scientists is convened in Canada at a secret location to come up with a solution. They include individuals whose lives have already been at risk: marine scientist Sigur Johanson barely escaped the tsunami; Karen Weaver, a journalist who specializes in marine stories, was rescued by Johanson; and marine biologist Leon Anawak barely survived a whale attack off Vancouver. All agencies of the United States government are involved. They work against the clock to understand what is going on and to come up with a way to stop it. Meanwhile a land invasion has begun, with millions upon millions of crabs storming the beaches of the east coast, again carrying this mysterious jelly-like substance; people die in the thousands as their water supply is contaminated. New York is doomed, Washington DC is next.

While The Swarm features a sizable cast as these events take place all over the world, Schatzing keeps everyone clear and identifiable, leaving the reader wondering who's going to make it and who isn't. With a depth of research that I haven't read since World War Z, the author takes the reader into the minds of many individuals around the world, seeing these terrible events through their eyes and their culture. It is a time to put differences aside, as everyone races against time to come up with a solution. The perfect summer read to cool down in the heat, The Swarm also opens the mind to new ideas and possibilities. With a movie adaptation due in a year or two, this is a book you'll read and not soon forget.

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