May 8, 2013

#19 Deep Trouble

Judging a Book by its Cover

Jaws. It's pretty damn hard to look at this cover and not think of Jaws. Sure, it's a hammerhead instead of a great white, but still. Jaws. It has the clueless innocent swimmer above and the toothy monster shark beneath. I am pretty sure they knew damn well they were evoking the notion of major motion picture Jaws and made it a hammerhead to make a little distinct. Plus hammerheads look pretty cool I guess.

The taglines are just what you'd expect. "Just when you thought it was safe" though they omit "to go into the water." Pretty cliche none the less. "Don't go in the water!" is on the back, and it's pretty uninspired. I want some bad puns dammit! How about "It's so scary, you'll wet yourself!" They shoulda hired me instead I tells ya.

Will this shark be the end of generic 12-13 year old main character? Let's take a look!

Getting Goosebumps

The book begins with William Deep Jr. (get it, DEEP Trouble, William DEEP. Clever shit here) looking for a giant stingray that has attacked several humans already. Our brave hero thinks he sees something lurking but wait! Someone has tampered with his air supply! He struggles to the surface, only to be heckled by his diving partner. His sister Sheena. He is a 12 year Billy on summer vacation, playing make believe. Really he is just snorkeling from the boat uncle "Dr. D" and assistant Alexander who are marine biologists. A fake-out beginning, who saw that coming? Everyone? Right.

Well Dr. D tells the kids to stick together and watch out for sharks that have recently been sited. Most importantly he tells them to stay away from the reef. Billy, however, is eager for danger and excitement. He goes closer and closer, until he gets grabbed by something and dragged away! Dr. D comes to the rescue and thinks it was just his nephew's overactive imagination again. They swim back to the boat, but Billy just can't stay away from that reef, he goes to it and steps on it to rest, but apparently it is fire coral. Ouch!

Later, on the boat Billy eavesdrops on his uncle talking to people from a nearby zoo. They are offering Dr. D 1 million dollars to catch a mermaid. Seriously? Only 1 million? I am pretty sure that a real live mermaid specimen, as it would shit all over science as we know it, would be worth way more than a million dollars. Hell, a run of the mill athlete makes more than that. Plus mermaids? I thought this was gonna be like Jaws, but it is turning out more like Splash. (The movie starring Tom Hanks not the tv show with a belly flopping Louie Anderson.) Anyway Dr. D agrees to do it, as he is in bad need of funding for his research. Bill accidentally crashes through the door and is sworn to secrecy by his uncle.

Naturally Billy is super enthused to catch the mermaid. He wants to be world renowned and hey, who doesn't? So he sneaks off and swims toward the lagoon. There he is grabbed, once again and he sees what is doing it. A slimy sea monster! Oh no! He is getting pulled under! He is... waking up. It was a dream off course. Undeterred by this, he sneak off to the lagoon for real. This time he is grabbed... by his sister! She knows he isn't supposed to sneak off. She is going to narc on him, but suddenly they see a fin out of the water coming toward them. Like an intelligent person, sister swims away. Billy on the other hand, goes towards it because clearly it must be a mermaid. Unfortunately it isn't. It is a hammerhead shark. It begins circling him, as Billy desperately swims toward the reef. He gets caught up on the fire coral and the shark bites down on him. Something however comes to his rescue. Another fish battling the shark? Nope, a real live mermaid! She fights off the hammerhead and Billy is thrilled. Then Dr. D shows up and nets the mermaid. As a reward for her good deed she is doomed to live in captivity!

Now Billy is a little remorseful. Despite being gung-ho about finding the mermaid after having it save his life he doesn't seem thrilled about them keeping her confined in a tank on the ship. She seems to communicate a bit like a whale, and mostly mopes around crying. How you can tell someone is crying underwater, I am unsure. Billy tries to communicate with her, and feed her. First he tries giving her chocolate chip cookies, because what tastes better than soggy cookies? Surely they have chips ahoy in her natural habitat! Later, assistant Alexander makes them some squid and Billy opts to give it to the mermaid instead. She seems to prefer this vastly. Shocking.

Billy seems to regret the mermaid capture more and more. At night he is mulling it over when he hears something. Kidnappers have come aboard to shanghai the mermaid! Billy, Sheena, and Dr. D are all powerless against them. Surely the strong assistant Alexander will come to the rescue! Unless of course they've been.... DOUBLECROSSED! They have been, apparently instead of a measly million Alexander has been offered 20 million by these unscrupulous folks. They make off with the mermaid and throw the kids and Dr. D in the mermaid tank, which they push into the ocean for good measure.

Stuck in a tank of water, sinking in an ocean of even more water our main characters are pretty fucked. Sheena is so afraid she literally says, "I'm so afraid." Now that's just great writing. I cant think of how they'd get out of this unless perhaps a whole gang of mermaids show up to save them. That of course is exactly what happens. Instead of being pissed about the fact that these are the people that caught their mermaid friend in the first place, they lead the crew to the kidnapper's boat.

Confronted by a marine biologist and 2 kids, one of the bad guys utters the most maniacal phrase ever, "finders keepers!" They start Dr. D's dingy on fire but the mermaids managed to free their friend. The pissed off mermaids then begin work on tipping over the boat, as Dr. D and crew put out the fire and escape. The next day the zoo shows up with a check for a million dollars, and Billy is worried that Dr. D is going to let them know that mermaids do indeed exist. Instead Dr. D lets them know that mermaids are just myth by confused fisherman. None exist. An ecstatic Billy goes back to the lagoon one more time to say thank you and goodbye to the mermaids. Instead he is confronted by the slimy tentacled sea monster that grabbed him earlier! Oh no! The end!

What I Thought

This was a bit different from other Goosebumps books which in some ways is a little refreshing. On the other hand, it wasn't very scary. I mean, none of the Goosebumps books are very scary, but they have supernatural elements that are meant to be frightening. Mummies, aliens, monsters and the like that our out to kill (or some similar motivation.) This on the other hand, had a friendly mermaid. The change is somewhat welcome but a little out of the spirit of the books. Still it has other things to be scared of like a shark and the deadliest beast of all, MAN!

Now while I assert that this book is a bit difference, it still has like 90% in common with all the other Goosebump's books. It stars a generic tween and a sibling that gets on their nerves. It has a scientist guardian which is pretty common, though marine biologist is a bit unique and makes for the setting of the boat on the ocean. That is pretty neat. While a lot of ones mimic the life of real kids with real problems, school, camp, bullies, this allows for an experience almost no kid can relate to. What 12 year old has snorkeled with marine biologist in the Caribbean? Besides 12 year old Caribbean kids...

The biggest creative difference is the big twist. You'd think mermaids would be the big twist, but no, the twist is the betrayal of Alexander for money. It's a bit of an ethical conundrum for kids. Do you allow the fairly obviously sentient, but weird, being to be put in captivity for money? Billy wrestles with this, as the fishlady saved his life. And then we see the depths people will go to for money. Alexander not only has no qualms about that or about murdering his boss and some children as long as he gets 20 million dollars out of it. So while ghosts or robots may be the villain in most Goosebumps, this villain is just a regular old greedy douche bag.

Now the biggest drawback to this whole tail is the drawback to all of these books and the reason you have to remind yourself these are simple books meant for young kids. It is all pretty generic. It ads nothing new to the notion of mermaids. They do nothing unique with them. You don't learn anything about them. They just have one in a tub and it's sad, then her friends come to the rescue. Hell, I don't know if they even wore anything. Were these topless mermaids or did they have shell bikinis like the little mermaid? INQUIRING MINDS NEED TO KNOW!

Also, there was the fact that Billy never got to save the mermaids in return. She saved him, they captured her. Badguys kidnap her, and will probably be even worse to her. In thanks for her rescue, you'd think it would ultimately be the kid that saves her but the mermaids are the ones that free their friend. All the humans manage to do is get their boat caught on fire. Then the mermaids tip the bad guy's vessel in revenge, and to help Dr. D and crew escape. Sure, ultimately the mermaids are free and in an act of goodwill Dr. D lies about their existence to protect them, but I can't help but feeling that the mermaids came out way ahead in the "not being a douche" scale.

Anyway, what I thought was gonna simple horror story about a shark, took a left turn to be about mermaids. While still being entirely a Goosebumps book it managed to tread some new ground (or tread water, right? right?)  and that is appreciated. Ultimately however, I can't help but feel with a few tweaks of uniqueness these books could be far less generic and far more memorable. And I don't mean by bullshit terrible twist endings either (I'm looking at you Welcome to Camp Nightmare.)

Rating: 3/5 mermaids

Up Next!

The scarecrow walks at midnight! Scarecrows even have scare in the name, so this must be a scary book. Their sole purpose to exist is to scare things. Crows mostly, but I am sure they can manage to scare other things especially if they magically come to life... I'm sure that wont happen though....

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