Whalefall Review

Before I get into this issue’s book review, I’ve made some changes to my plans for A Star Apart. That book will still be the first novel in the Alloyed series, but I’m starting the series with a story collection. Becoming Alloyed tells how the human-quantum, chimeric biotechnology came to be. Once that backgrounder is out, A Star Apart will soon follow.

Whalefall 🐋 Book Review

Whalefall is a novel by Daniel Kraus, who co-wrote The Shape of Water. I consider Whalefall to be one of the best accessible literary hard SF books I’ve ever read. But first, let me define “accessible literary.”

I’m not a big fan of traditional literary novels, which place far too much emphasis on character and far too little on storytelling. Books like Them by Oates and Zone 1 by Whitehead are classic examples. Both put me to sleep and I couldn’t finish either one.

In contrast, accessible literary novels are engaging, tell great stories, and have brilliant prose. Sourdough by Robin Sloan and Station Eternity by Mur Lafferty are two favorites of mine. And Whalefall joined that exclusive list in December 2023.

Whalefall is a father-son story, and Kraus makes that story intriguing from beginning to end. It’s also an action story with the kind of fast-paced engagement of a thriller. Most exciting of all, it’s the hardest of hard science fiction.

But before we go off the rails, Whalefall does not involve space travel, intrepid astronaut explorers, other planets, or even aliens. Unless you consider a sperm whale to be an alien. After reading this novel, you might change your opinion. It could go either way.

What makes this novel hard SF, is the detail. It incorporates scuba diving science throughout and does it in an easy to understand way. The sperm whale science is even more detailed and fascinating. Kraus talked about the research he did, the hours he spent talking and working with whale biologists, the still unanswered questions, and the controversial theories. Like a good SF writer, he extrapolated the known facts, but not so far they strained credulity.

Kraus’ accessible literary skills are evident everywhere. In quite a few places, he cracks open a thesaurus and pours a dozen related words into a single sentence. I’ve encountered a few pedantic critics who bristle at mere duplication of meaning. But Kraus’ skill makes it work. Sure, a list of words with similar definitions could be tedious. Not so here. The effect is impressionistic, with each word shining a spotlight on a single facet of the one underlying meaning. It’s a breathtaking, beautiful, and alluring technique I would love to learn. Not there yet.

I loved reading Whalefall, and I expect to reread it several times to learn from a master. If you like whales, the ocean, diving, or any combination, Whalefall will delight. My website has a page dedicated to Whalefall.

Xeriscape Year 2

The xeriscape garden I created last year is coming back to life. Blue Flax (Linum lewisii) is always the first to put up new stalks. It must be one of those plants with antifreeze in its fluids. The Western yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and White prairie aster (Symphyotrichum falcatum) are both spreading, sending up new plants from underground runners. That aggressive growth habit is OK for now. The landscape has plenty of room for all the plants to reach their mature dimensions. In a few years, I will sever and pull up the suckers so no one species dominates.

I’m pleased to see both Ten petal mentzelia (Mentzelia decapetala) plants coming back strong. They were quite small last year and I thought they were struggling. I suspect they invested all available energy into a deep and sturdy root system. “Scotty, reroute all power to the plasma discomobulator root matrix!” “Aye, captain… What?”

At least one of the Yellow sundrops (Oenothera serrulata) has gone missing. Squirrels have the habit of digging up small plants to bury peanuts during the summer and fall. In the winter and spring seasons, they dig holes everywhere searching for those nuts. If they weren’t so random about it (proven scientific fact), I wouldn’t mind. All I can do is try to get the plants well enough established to survive squirrel excavations.

Be first to receive the Deep Space Opera newsletter. Subscribe now!