There’s a lot of jibber-jabber about octopi in this shoot-and-miss post-apocalyptic thriller from Andre Norton. Three days after nuclear submarines wiped out Cape Town, Wellington, Sydney, Shanghai, Singapore, Busan, Rotterdam and Seattle—all the great seaports of the world—a consortium of giant cephalopods arrived to declare their sovereignty over mankind.
And sadly, there was no path of negotiation between humans and the new super-octopods. Here was intelligence to a high degree; scientists recognized that. But it was a form of intelligence so alien that there existed no hope for détente.
Whether the “Octopus-Sapiens” were an ancient species hitherto dwelling unsuspected in the ocean deeps, or whether they were mutants whose evolution had been escalated by recent nuclear warfare, was still a matter for dispute.
But one thing was clear: The ancient horror stories of mariners were now coming true. Krakens had arrived that could (and would) drag down warships, oil tankers and cruise ships to be plundered at their leisure in the watery depths.
Sea Siege takes place on a small bleak island in the West Indies. According to Norton, “San Isadore was a sterile, scraped place that bore a sharp resemblance to the lunar landscapes drawn by painters of the fantastic.” The island may have been an inhospitable place for native inhabitants, U.S. Naval personnel and marine scientists, but it quickly became ground zero for octopod occupation because of the surrounding corral reef. It was literally an octopus pod.
But it wasn’t just octopi they had to worry about. The monster cephalopods were commandeering an aquatic force of obedient sea serpents and enormous sharks. Americans, Russians and Chinese had to work together now. The real threats to mankind were the mutants roaming the seas. “We’re closing ranks,” said a U.S. official to a Russian survivor. “If you’re human, you’re on our side.”
Readers learn a lot about octopi in this novel. It’s all fascinating stuff. Had native conditions varied only in the slightest degree, these sea creatures might have been the planet’s ruler in man’s place.
The nuclear fallout, however, was simply an abstract existential threat concocted by the author. Despite the nuclear chaos, the first step to recovery was obvious. Surface dwellers had to learn how to live in harmony with sea dwellers. “From now on we have to make peace ‘tween ocean an’ land,” said one philosophical Seabee.
[Sea Siege / By Andre Norton / First Printing: August 1957]