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Deep Blue Sea


By Carol Severance 

28 Dec, 2023

The End of History


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Carol Severance’s 1991 Reefsong is a stand-alone science fiction novel. 

Although her family has long since been driven off the mountain land they love by the nigh all-powerful World Life Corporation, UN Warden Angie Dinsman still labors to keep one of the last remaining wildernesses on Earth intact. She has no intention of ever leaving.

Wildfire and the World Life Corporation costs Angie her precious post.

Badly injured in a forest fire of questionable origin, Angie wakes to discover that while she was unable to protest, she has been the recipient of bold medical procedures. Without some significant intervention, Angie would have died or been disabled for life. With the particular treatment provided, Angie has been adapted for life in the oceans … but not Earth’s oceans.

When the planet Lesaat was first discovered, people believed that the ocean world could provide an escape valve for Earth’s hungry, ever-expanding population1. This was soon found to be unworkable. Lesaat’s polar continents are covered in ice. Only islands can be found in the planet’s temperate and tropical zones. Economic activity is limited by the lack of useful land and the cost of adapting people to the planet.

A break-through enzyme that would end hunger on overcrowded Earth was discovered on Lesaat. The relevant files were subsequently lost. The World Life Corporation needs Angie — or at least someone with a Warden’s sweeping legal powers — to track down the missing files.

Since Angie is on the hook for the cost of the expensive medical procedures inflicted on her, she has little choice but to agree. Despite financial desperation, her bargaining position is strong. While Angie cannot avoid travelling to Lesaat, she extracts from World Life some significant concessions, not least of which is forcing them to allow Lesaat-born orphan Pua to accompany Angie to Lesaat.

Lesaat’s modified workforce is largely Polynesian. Management is not. (I picture white guys in suits.) The Company attracted early cohorts of workers with lavish compensation. Now that the workers are stuck on Lesaat, the Company has been methodically using various legal pretexts to claw back what it first granted to the workers. Consequently there is little love lost between the workforce and management. Thus the heavily armed security forces station on Lesaat.

Angie’s job is to find the missing research, the work of none other than Pua’s parents. The mission lands Angie in a conflict between workers and management, on a planet on the brink of revolution. World Life appears to have an unassailable position … but they’ve underestimated their opposition.


The author has done research into Polynesian cultures. I don’t have the expertise to access the results. I do note that this is explicitly not a case in which all Polynesians are assumed to share a single, unchanging culture: Lesaat’s culture draws from a number of sources, modified according to local needs on the alien world.

A note about the cover: the society that evolved on Lesaat differs in many ways from that of Earth’s ruling classes. One point of disagreement involves clothing, which is not optional on Earth. A particular sticking point with Pua, when she lived on Earth, was convincing her to remain dressed. That’s probably Pua on the cover, and the artist has taken steps to make her attire more modest than it is in the novel. That said, there’s probably a reason why later covers have the art that they do.

Note the fingers and the webbed feet. There are gills to match. I don’t know if one can fuel mammalian metabolism with the O2 extracted from water with gills. I am also not sold on the utility of the modified hands. But as written, the modifications underline management’s tendency to see workers as equipment to be altered or expended at need2.

Lesaat seemed weirdly Earthlike when I first started reading; same species in the oceans. Then I realized that the local flora and fauna aren‘t terrestrial at all. It’s just that the people naming animals were as lazy as Europeans naming animals in the New World; wildly inappropriate terrestrial names have been reused on entirely dissimilar alien species. I should also add that some terrestrial species were introduced (purposefully or not) and have become invasive species.

The novel is filled with mysteries, some of which (like the question of who murdered Pua’s parents) aren’t really mysteries. Pretty much every bad thing that happens in the novel, natural catastrophes aside, can be traced back to World Life trying to maximize profits in one way or another. While many view World Life askance because it’s believed that they were founded by South American drug cartel eager to diversify, that might be a red herring. What megacorporation wouldn’t do everything in its power to maximize profits?

Ultimately, this is a novel like Red Planet or Trouble on Titan, in which a small group of settlers (mainly Polynesian in this case) struggle to free themselves from an onerous colonial government. Initially the balance of power seems to favor Team Evil3. The question in these stories (which end happily) is what surprising asset will the settlers use to force the other side to grant autonomy? I won’t tell you what happens in this book (spoiler), although I will say that it involves ludicrous legal gambits.

Did I like this book? It was OK, though I would have preferred fewer action scenes and more exploration of Lesaat.

Reefsong made the Nebula longlist. It also won the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel, beating out Jane S. Fancher’s Groundties (which I have not read), and Michelle West’s Into the Dark Lands (which I have also not read).

Reefsong is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Kobo). I did not find it at Chapters-Indigo.

1: This book isn’t your standard over-populated Earth story. The issue isn’t that people left to their own devices breed like mice. The issue is that a lot of top-down policies are in place to encourage people to have lots of kids, because this benefits the ruling elites (or at least, the elites believe it does).

2: Team Evil: as soon as World Life discovers that one of Pua’s genetic modifications allows her to regenerate lost body parts, they take to lopping off her hands to surgically attach to recipients (who presumably pay well for the parts).

3: World Life is confident enough that the UN will never be able to crack down on them that they don’t really bother concealing that they are baby-soul-huffing monsters. I know, in a real world with corporate paragons such as Xitter, Amazon, and Facebook, such open villainy from a major corporation seems hard to believe, but one has to allow the author their one impossible thing4.

4: FTL is a gimmee in many SF novels because it’s hard to have a plot about life on an alien world if you can’t get there within a human lifespan.