Ancient Horror from the Depths…

 Author:  Kenneth Gass

Trilobites! book image (189x288)It may have been quite some time since you’ve been reminded of this, but trilobites ruled the Earth’s primordial seas for an impressive 250 million years and over 17,000 species have been identified in the fossil record.  Ancient relatives of insects and crustaceans, this enormous group included species that filled every possible marine niche – grazers, predators, filter feeders, decomposers and so on.  However, it appears that they all vanished about 250 million years ago in a massive extinction event that wiped out 96% of all marine species.  But who knows?  Every once in a while an animal is discovered that had previously been considered extinct.  Why not a trilobite?   Maybe living trilobites are out there crawling around in some unexplored corner of the vast ocean.  It’s this sensational idea that inspired writer and lifelong trilobite fanatic Kenneth Gass to pen Trilobites!, a novella based on his original screenplay, exploring how the world might be affected by such a discovery.

Keith Parish is a scientist in charge of an acclaimed deep sea research program off the coast of San Diego who happens to be dating Rachel Sanders, an invertebrate paleontology instructor at the local college.  Intrigued by the idle comment of one of her slacker students, Rachel convinces Keith to take her trilobite hunting in the Newlife, Keith’s state-of-the-art submersible.  Despite the long odds, they discover several trilobite species on their first dive.  Further coincidence ensues as it becomes clear that trilobites have been hitching rides to the surface on the Newlife repeatedly over the preceding weeks and given their voracious omnivory and rapid reproductive rate have been disrupting the local ecosystem with lightning speed.  Even the health of the local human population starts to suffer as the trilobite invasion spreads, eventually going global.  As the reality of the situation becomes clear to our intrepid scientists, they realize that the future of humanity may be resting on their shoulders.  Can they stop these ruthless interlopers before it’s too late?

Gass, who’s collected and written about trilobites for years – even naming a new species he discovered after his wife – is clearly inspired by his favorite creatures and his enthusiasm oozes from the pages.  Unfortunately, his storytelling skills, despite the earnest effort, are below average as the numerous coincidences, awkward dialog and stereotypical characters are frequently cringe inducing.

The new ecologic plague?

The new ecologic plague?

Despite the weak writing, I have to admit I still managed to enjoy this quick read, primarily because I found the idea of modern day trilobites exciting and almost plausible.  The ocean floor, especially the deepest areas, are certain to hold more surprises for scientists in the future and the environmental depredations of introduced species have been documented repeatedly in the modern era, whether it’s rabbits in Australia, brown tree snakes in Guam or cane toads in Florida.  This science nerd found the idea that trilobites might cause similar chaos on world wide scale intriguing.

Maybe in the hands of a skilled science novelist like Michael Crichton, Trilobites! could have been a literary success.  As it is, I can only recommend the book to true trilobite buffs, but thanks to Mr. Gass my interest in these ancient creatures has been vigorously piqued.  I know I’ll be on the lookout the next time I’m at the beach.

— D. Driftless

trilobite image by Nobu Tamura

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