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Jurassic Con

MEG A Novel of Deep Terror By Steve Alten; Doubleday: 279 pp., $22.95

July 20, 1997|RICHARD ELLIS | Richard Ellis is the author of "Deep Atlantic," "Monsters of the Sea," "The Book of Whales," "Dolphins and Porpoises," "The Book of Sharkes," "Men and Whales" and "Great White Shark" with John McCosker

Like this phantasmagorial description of the monster shark: "It's totally white, actually luminescent. This is a common genetic adaptation to its environment where no light exists."

As a helicopter hovers above this luminescent monster, "The Megalodon launched straight out of the sea like an intercontinental ballistic missile, flying at the hovering helicopter faster than [the pilot] could increase his altitude. . . . Only the seat belt kept his body from falling into the night where the garage-sized head closed quickly, its fangs 5 feet away."

In another encounter, the shark approaches a submarine that ". . . at 3,000 tons easily outweighed her. But the Meg could swim and change course faster than her adversary; moreover, no adult Megalodon would allow a challenge to its rule to go unanswered. Approaching from above, the female accelerated at the sub's hull like a berserk, 60-foot locomotive. . . . BOOM!!"

As might be expected, the shark is dispatched by an intrepid marine biologist, but nothing in this ridiculous book compares with Alten's unbelievable conclusion. The hero, Jonas Taylor (Jonas, I ask you!) is in his one-man submersible when, like the biblical Jonah, he gets swallowed by the shark. He climbs out of the submarine, reaches into his backpack, where he always carries a fossil C. megalodon tooth, and he carves up the shark and kills it from the inside. Then he climbs back into the submarine (which he relocates by shining his flashlight around in the belly of the shark) and ejects himself from the shark's mouth. As Dave Barry says, I'm not making this up.

Under ordinary circumstances, a book as terrible as this would hardly be noticed or, at least, it would be recognized for what it is: a steppingstone to a Hollywood extravaganza with expensive special effects, throbbing music and plenty of blood. But "Meg" is being hyped so hysterically that it doesn't matter if it makes any sense or even if it's readable. It's enough that it's about a giant shark that glows in the dark, launches itself like an ICBM and eats 14 whales at a time.

When Doubleday published "Jaws" in 1974, it paid Peter Benchley an advance in the mid-four figures. Now the same publisher has joined the ranks of those who can twist their own definition of literature (there must be another name for this stuff) to justify paying a million dollars for this outrageously awful book, crammed with egregious errors of fact and stuffed to the gills with writing so terrible that it would insult the intelligence of a sea cucumber.

And the most embarrassing thing about all of this is that they--and the author--are proud of what they have done. On the flap of the copy I have, somebody wrote, "Steve Alten's story is an inspiring tale of perseverance against the odds, and the power of a good yarn. In a single month, he went from being an unemployed father of three with $48 in the bank to a multimillionaire author and screenwriter." Doubleday was obviously looking for another "Jaws" to make it rich. For publishing this rubbish, it ought to be ashamed of itself. I am more than a little embarrassed to see that in his author's note, Alten acknowledges me and John McCosker for our book, "Great White Shark," as "an excellent source of information on both Megalodons and great whites." If "Meg" is what we spawned, then we ought to be ashamed of ourselves too.

Book critic Richard Eder is on vacation.

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