Hotel Megalodon – Rick Chesler (Review)

Hotel MegalodonHotel Megalodon is one of the many books about Carcharadon Megalodon, a massive and extinct relative of today’s Great White Shark. It follows roughly the same plot as other megalodon books – a prehistoric monster causes havoc while characters learn that mankind’s dominance over nature is a fragile thing.

This books differentiating factor is the setting. Hotel Megalodon takes place in and around an experimental underwater hotel. On the day of the grand opening, celebrities and the super-rich arrive to enjoy the glories of the underwater restaurants and luxury suites.

But the construction of the hotel has awoken something in the depths of the ocean. Something angry and hungry. The hotel’s guests and staff find themselves trapped underwater by poor safety standards and a long-extinct apex predator.

I think it would be fair to say that I have a higher tolerance for monster books/films than most people. It’s an idea that I am happy to see remixed and re-told again and again. Yes, the plots never change that much, the characters tend to be cardboard cut-outs, but it’s a fun idea that lends itself to exciting action sequences. I don’t require anything groundbreaking from the genre, just enough tension and plausibility to enjoy the spectacle.

Plausibility is Hotel Megalodon’s greatest weakness. I’m all for willing suspension of disbelief – it’s about an extinct shark, after all – but there are limits. For the book to work, every character has to make, and then keep making, terrible decisions. It beggars belief, which is a real problem for immersion.

The underwater hotel seems to lack the most basic safety features, and to have little-to-no redundancy. It’s a luxury undersea resort with only one submarine, and no spare parts. Management has cut so many corners that it’s surprising the hotel is even watertight, and no one in the entire complex seems to have any idea how things work. That’s not believable – an experimental project filled with rich people should have the basics ironed out.

This isn’t helped by irrational characters. How characters react to threats is always a crucial part of monster books – they need to take it seriously from the appropriate moment, and make understandable (not necessarily rational) decisions. Hotel Megalodon‘s characters do not do either of those things. Even when the shark is clear and present, they spend their time ignoring the threat to engage in pointless machinations. Saved characters return to the water on flimsy pretexts so often that it’s like watching Shark Pool.

Given the problems with setting and characterisation, the book drags. It’s hard to feel tension and excitement when you don’t care about the characters, and it’s hard to care about the characters when they’re astonishingly dense. Their terrible decisions prolong the book, forcing more and more serious situations. Ideally, escalation should come in spite of the characters’ efforts, rather than because of them. You don’t want to end up in a situation where the reader is wanting the book to end, just waiting for the resolution.

There are some positives to the book – it’s built around set-pieces, dramatic moments with a splintering window or a trapped guest. A lot of books fail to put in the spectacle that is required for monsters; sometimes, they need to show what they can do. The eventual method of dealing with the shark is one I haven’t seen before, which is always nice.

Overall though, Hotel Megalodon has significant flaws which weaken immersion and slow the pace. There’s little sense of progress, just scene after scene strung together by continued poor character choices. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read – it makes sense, there aren’t countless grammatical errors – but it fails to be engaging enough to paper over the cracks.

Buy it here.

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