I am an extreme sucker--dare I say, a pathological sucker--for vaguely fantastical, vaguely military, lost-species-type books. Before James Rollins got famous with his Sigma Force books, he wrote several about lost and highly deadly species trapped in exotic locales. They were, and still are, ridiculously fun to read. I've re-read Amazonia, my favorite of those early titles, many times. But since he's more into the Sigma side of it now, I'm always looking for a fun popcorn book to read when I don't want to think too much. I thought I'd found something halfway decent in Subterrestrial.
Subterrestrial opens with an engineer working on a proposed tunnel to connect North America and Asia via the Bering Sea. Similar in nature to the Eurostar, this train would travel through a subaquatic tunnel and make the investors of the company building it very, very, very rich. However, the ginormous drill they're using to investigate the tunnels under the Bering Sea punches through rock into a tunnel that starts sucking up ocean water enough to make the water recede from coastlines alone the Pacific.
After this occurs, various scientists around the globe are approached by a mysterious silver-haired man who makes them an offer they can't refuse (I'm unsure why, but for the sake of the book, they all agree to go with this man). This is where the problems start. I could not for the life of me tell the the scientists apart from one another. There are two women, which made it marginally easier, but all the male scientists just sort of smooshed together in this nebulous blob of uncertain characterization. There was one character who was Vietnamese, and one who was Native American. Guess who gets killed off? Yep, everyone who is not white.
Characters also have bizarre back stories that have precisely zero bearing on what they do in the narrative. Ahiga Nabahe, the anthropologist, was fired from his job at university because he wrote about mysterious faces carved into cavern walls and is also going blind. Yet, his partial blindness is never an issue when he's cave diving or dodging evil dinosaur bird creatures.
The author takes care to mention that Nabahe used to teach "about the Native American peoples" but felt that he was a "cariciature dancing for their amusement" as he taught them about "oral traditions of the Hopi and Zuni, and even his native Navajo." From a quick search, it seems as though McBride chose an actual Diné name for his character, which is nice, but I was sad to see that he was also painted as a drug addict and a crackpot.
Predictably, the characters end up in way over their heads and are hunted by not one, but two species of deadly creatures, one of which turns out to be mostly benign. Ish. Again, this is another area where the author couldn't commit to one idea or concept about the creature and so changed things as he went along. First of all, the Skrees (it's the noise they make, and they're never given a name, so that's my nomenclature) eviscerate their prey and eat the entrails. Then, their hunting pattern is to mostly kill people, drag their bodies back to a cave, stick a Skree embryo inside the body to gestate, and wall the human incubators in with a sort of spiderweb material. Out pops the baby Skree and the human dies. However, later on, two scientists discover a Skree nest with eggs. So ... which is it? Do they grow inside humans à la Alien or do they lay eggs?
Aside from these inconsistencies, the other big problem I had with this book is that the action was somehow mind-numbingly boring. Like, there were words, presumably describing action, but I ended up skimming because I couldn't (for lack of a better word) track the action in my mind. I couldn't visualize it.
I cannot recommend this, but it certainly isn't one of the worst books I've ever read. The author seemed to have good intentions, but ignored both character building and decent prose in order to give us as much viscera as possible (which is, evidently, quite a bit).