Vostok by Steve Alten
Please note Vostok is a sequel to The Loch. If you haven’t read that first then there is a good chance you’ll miss out on some important elements of this on-going story. Also this review may contain a few minor spoilers.
East Antarctica: The coldest, most desolate location on Earth. Two-and-a-half miles below the ice cap is Vostok, a six thousand square mile liquid lake, over a thousand feet deep, left untouched for more than 15 million years. Now, marine biologist Zachary Wallace and two other scientists aboard a submersible tethered to a laser will journey 13,000 feet beneath the ice into this unexplored realm to discover Mesozoic life forms long believed extinct and an object of immense power responsible for the evolution of modern man.
When I am looking for a story that I know I am going to enjoy, I always find myself drawn to fiction featuring monsters. There is something insanely entertaining about humanity going up against creatures that they haven’t seen before, and are totally unprepared for. The Loch by Steve Alten had exactly that premise, and I enjoyed that for the most part, so when the opportunity to read the sequel came along I was powerless to resist.
When you have uncovered the truth behind an age-old legend that is known across the world, the chances of being left alone by the media are unsurprisingly slim. Zachary Wallace has attempted to move on, to start a life with his young family, but once again fate is conspiring against him. He is drawn towards a new project deep under the ice of Antarctica. A discovery has been made that requires Zach’s unique skillset to help unravel. As before, Zach remains a compelling lead. He is still the quick thinking problem solver who often finds himself in the trickiest of situations. Some of the other cast from The Loch pop up as well, most notably Angus Wallace and True.
Moving from Scotland to Antarctica, and covering hundreds of miles of ocean, there is a much larger sense of scale to Vostok than with The Loch. The environment is far harsher than before. I know from personal experience that Scottish summers are bad, but that is nothing compared to East Antarctica. In Vostok everything is bigger and badder than before. There are more monsters, much more at stake, and far larger consequences to the events that unfold. I think thrillers like this work best when everything is just a little bit over the top and exaggerated slightly. There are some awesome set pieces and daring escapes that are great fun.
I suspect this book is going to split fan opinion right down the middle. Some will love it, while others will loathe it. About half way through the narrative the story veers off on a tangent that moves the entire novel into truly unexpected territory. By the end of the novel there are discussions regarding multiverse theory, time travel and quantum physics. I’ll be honest, I was not expecting any of that when I started on page one. I’m pleased to say however that I think it makes Vostok a far more enjoyable read because of it. I certainly preferred it over reading The Loch. This book has moved the story from the realms of the thriller genre into pure science fiction.
Though the focus of Vostok is more firmly directed toward action than the courtroom drama of The Loch, there is still a nice secondary thread to the narrative that details how a conspiracy is working against Zach and his colleagues. This part of the story helps to flesh out the human cost of exploring the unknown. There are always going to be those who are resistant to change and will do anything to try and stop it from happening.
I did have a couple of issues when I read The Loch, which I mentioned when I reviewed it, but I’m pleased to discover that these are no longer present. With those minor quibbles removed, I had much more fun with Vostok than its predecessor. It strikes me that Steve Alten’s best books are the one where he goes all out and lets his imagination run riot. Turns out I have a lot of time for huge prehistoric apex predators, laser beams, global conspiracies and everything that goes along with it.
Vostok is not only a sequel to The Loch, but also acts as a prequel to the next book in the MEG series, Nightstalkers, which is due out later this year. Personally I’m a huge fan of the MEG franchise and I really like how this novel brings together characters from it and The Loch to form a shared universe. It’s pretty darn cool when Jonas Taylor from MEG and Zachary Wallace get to share the same stage.
There is a real sense with Vostok that events are building toward something and the book ends on an extremely interesting note. I’ll say no more than that, for fear of spoilers, but it really makes me keen to know what happens next. A few years ago I read Alten’s Domain trilogy, which has a distinctly science fictional tone, and Vostok explores some similar ideas and themes. I really enjoyed those books and I had a blast with Vostok. I can’t wait to see where Mr Alten and the next Meg book take us.
Vostok is published by Rebel Press and is available now.