By David Healey
Deep under the oceans, more than a century from today, a struggle is being waged for the survival of humanity.
After the devastation wrought by rapid climate change, the remaining world superpowers are coping with how to sustain their populations. Where do people live? How are they fed? Where will resources come from?
This is the future that Canadian author Timothy S. Johnston images in his newest novel, THE SAVAGE DEEPS.
In addition to being a thriller, the novel also poses so many interesting questions about the world in 110 years. Instead of turning to space for survival, Johnston imagines that the answer lies under the oceans. Mineral deposits sit on the ocean floor, waiting to be scooped up. Geothermal heat and oil deposits are there for the taking, along with new fishing grounds. To feed the masses, vast forests of kelp can be grown and harvested.
However, the superpowers are fighting over these resources. It has triggered a new Cold War—and sometimes a hot one.
“The next natural frontier is really the water,” Johnston explained. “Seventy percent of the planet is underwater. The big issue for humanity is that it will likely trigger a new Cold War underwater, and that is the setting of this novel.”
He added, “This an exciting Cold War espionage thriller that takes place in the near future … but totally underwater. No scene takes place above water in this thriller.”
Although THE SAVAGE DEEPS is the second book of a series (following The War Beneath), he stressed that his books can be read as standalones. His writing has earned some glowing reviews, including this starred review from Publishers’ Weekly of a previous novel, The Void, “… engrossing and exciting . . . SF and mystery fans will be impressed with Johnston’s tightly written deep-space whodunit.”
Citing writing influences such as Michael Crichton, Isaac Asimov, and Agatha Christie, the author said that the idea behind his series plumbs some depths of his own, going back to his college days and environmental science classes in the 1980s. He’s always had what he calls an “affinity for oceans.” The result is a fascinating “what if” concept and world that Johnston has built.
“Some say my writing is science fiction, but It really is more of a technological thriller,” he said. “It’s grounded in reality, though. It’s based on current events and where those current events will take us.”
While the futuristic vision of the resources-challenged world is one thing, the action and adventure is another. Fans of submarine movies and fiction will enjoy the highly atmospheric tension and sheer claustrophobia of operating at great depths in what are essentially ocean-going spaceships.
The secret to power and in operating at the great depths in THE SAVAGE DEEPS is technology. Johnston points out that a WWI submarine could dive 100 meters deep. A WWII sub could descend to 200 meters. But the submarines of Johnston’s world reach depths of 3,000 to 4,000 meters undersea. That’s roughly 2.4 miles under the surface. (For comparison, commercial jets nowadays typically fly at between 9,000 and 11,000 meters.)
“I really changed technology a lot to open up the possibilities at operating at these undersea depths,” Johnston explained. All that ocean pressure also adds to the sense of excitement and adventure.
Of course, surviving at those depths poses all sorts of dangers to the inhabitants and operators in these undersea colonies. Technology or not, the ocean depths are not all that forgiving. When there is a malfunction, the author noted that his characters have just two or three minutes to find a solution … or face certain death as the seas rush in.
“They are prisoners of the deep,” he said. “They can’t swim to the surface or the bends will kill them.”
He explained that the surface is not the answer in an emergency for the simple reason that the undersea world of his novels operates at a standardized 4 atmospheres of pressure so that people moving between undersea structures or vessels don’t experience too many fluctuations. The surface world is at 1 atmosphere. Anyone shooting to the surface too quickly would die of the bends. In other words, Johnston’s setting is like the Las Vegas of the sea in that what happens underwater stays underwater.
“It really ratchets up the tension,” he said, noting that to be scared for the safety of a character is typical of a thriller or suspense novel. “Readers find themselves holding their breath along with the characters.”
One might think that Johnston pens his novels from a sailboat or within sight of the sea, but his inspiration often comes from having a submarine movie on in the background as he works. Something like Crimson Tide or The Abyss would qualify as favorites.
“Basically, I’m a fan of every underwater book or movie,” he said.
He writes very early in the morning, fueled by coffee, in his home loft office. “I tend to write when my kids are sleeping,” he said.
He is methodical about tracking his daily writing output. As for the plot, he tends to plan that out in broad strokes but leaves room for new developments as he writes. Characters are steered toward a certain ending, but they don’t always cooperate along the way.
“When something that I didn’t expect happens, I stop and I think, ‘What? Really?’ In the end, you just have to realize that storytelling happens.”
What can readers expect next? Johnston said he has at least three more books planned in the series. That’s good news for readers, who can dive right in.
Timothy S. Johnston is a lifelong fan of thrillers and science fiction thrillers in both print and film. His greatest desire is to contribute to the genre that has given him so much over the past four decades. He wishes he could personally thank every novelist, screenwriter, filmmaker, director, and actor who has ever inspired him to tell great stories. He has been an educator for twenty years and a writer for thirty. He lives on planet Earth, but he dreams of the stars. Visit his website to register for news alerts, read his blog and reviews, and learn more about his current and upcoming thrillers. Timothy is the author of The War Beneath and THE SAVAGE DEEPS. His futuristic murder mystery/thrillers include The Furnace, The Freezer, and The Void. Follow Timothy on Facebook @TSJAuthor and Twitter @TSJ_Author.