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The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser
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The Beast of Cretacea

by Todd Strasser

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Sometimes you don't ever hear about the best books. Not from a friend. Not from the internet. Not from the thousand and one subscriptions that hit your inbox daily. Sometimes you just have to stumble upon them. And that's exactly how I discovered The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser. I found this one at the library, tucked into the regular circulation stacks when I was busy wondering when exactly the first book in The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater was going to be returned so I could finally begin that series. And then I saw this one, the spine a mix of color with a title that made the story sound ripe with adventure.

So I did what I always do. Picked up the book without so much as a glance at the synopsis on the inside flap and never looked back.

This is a retelling, as so many books seem to be these days. But this one is very unique both in what it is a retelling of and the methods used. The Beast of Cretacea is a retelling of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Set on a dying planet, this story is about a young man desperate to pay for his adoptive family to escape off-planet before the oxygen reach lethal levels, while struggling with his new position on board a ship with a crazed captain hell bent on catching and killing the legendary white terrafin.

Okay. I know ‘retelling of Moby Dick’ sounds daunting at best and maybe boring and stuffy at worst. But it isn’t. I promise! There aren’t any long passages focused solely on how a boat works and the language isn’t that of the 19th century. This is sci-fi adventure at its finest, taking a classic tale and placing it in the far future in a rather dystopian society with new, fascinating subplots.

Okay. So what exactly is the plot, you ask?

Ishmael has been transported to another planet with several others to work on a fishing ship. It’s the first time he’s been away from Earth, the tiny home he shares with his adoptive brother and parents, and the dangerous, smoggy streets of Black Range. Not only is this off-planet service a requirement for those his age, but Ishmael must accrue $10,000 to get his family off of Earth. According to Old Ben, who knows just about everything, the oxygen production plants just can’t keep up anymore. Oxygen levels are dipping dangerously low and it’s only a matter of time before what little life is left on earth is completely extinguished.

But the easy path to success of ‘catch big fish = make lots of cash’ is hindered by surly crewmates, a captain obsessed with catching the largest terrafin ever seen while ignoring all other possible prey and his ship’s needs, pirate attacks, and more. There are rumors, too. That there’s a class of people who have real food instead of Natrient packs, have clean air, and all the fresh water they could want. And Old Ben left him with a cryptic message just before Ishmael left, a confusing message that simply couldn’t be true. Or could it?

This book is one of the best books I have read in some time. The most basic of plots is simple. Boy must catch giant fish. But the book is so much more than that. We have dystopian civilizations, shadow governments, secret collectives, a dying Earth, a new world called Cretacea, a furtive island society, and a decent amount of interpersonal relationships and character development.

The characters were all very well plotted and developed. Each have their own motivations for being on Cretacea as well as reasons for their actions throughout the novel. This wasn’t just a case of ‘I need the plot to do this so I’ll make a character do X’. These characters have their own hopes and dreams. More than that, even those who were friends didn’t always agree on the correct course of action and always had very solid reasoning for doing so. Limits were pushed and friendships tested in real, believable ways.

Despite there being a lot going on in this book, interpersonal and plot/sub-plot wise, at no point did it feel confusing. Everything is laid out in a very straightforward manner with no convoluted explanations or the like. The chapters are short and succinct, usually ending at the end of a scene, helping the book to feel as if it is moving faster than it sometimes actually is.

Something I thought very interesting was the author’s use of tenses. The majority of the book is written in the third person, present tense from Ishmael's point of view. This gives the action a feel of immediacy, as if it’s happening right now, right in front of you. Flashbacks are presented in their own short chapters, usually only two or three pages long at the most. These flashbacks are all written in past tense, making it very apparent what is happening right now, and what we are seeing in retrospect. This is a technique I have not often seen, and it worked very well here.

Though I initially found this title within the young adult section at the library, it would definitely appeal to readers of adult novels and adult science fiction as well. The characters may be a bit on the young-ish side if you don't normally read young adult novels, but they are from a dying world and were forced to grow up quickly. None of them, especially Ishmael, act immature or blunder their way through the novel as is sometimes seen in YA lit. They are very mature characters dealing with difficult situations and interpersonal issues focusing on issues like class. While romance is hinted at, there is nothing overt. Romance doesn’t take over the story, remaining a barely there feature that enhances rather than steals the plot.

I highly suggest taking a look at The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser. In a publishing world ripe with retellings of old classics this is one that deserves to be at the top of everyone's list, and a fantastic science fiction adventure novel sure to please fans of the genre. If you don't like science fiction, or prefer romance-heavy young adult novels this book may not be exactly what you're looking for. ( )
  kateprice88 | Apr 21, 2017 |
Loved this book! Excellent reworking of the Moby Dick tale that will grab a ya reader from the first page and not let go until the final epic twist. ( )
  scatlett | Nov 28, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Reviewer's Note: I never received a copy of this book for Early Reviewers, as I was promised. I borrowed a copy from my local library.

The Beast of Cretacea by Todd Strasser is an interesting retelling of Moby Dick, featuring many of the characters from the original book, but with some cast in very different roles from the original. Mr. Strasser does a good job of bringing the story and characters to life, and for the most part the story has a good flow. In this version, Ishmael has come to Cretacea from a dying Earth, and we catch glimpses of his early years living under a cloud of pollution known as the Shroud. His relationship with his foster parents, foster brother, and mysterious neighbor, Old Ben, give depth to his character and help the reader to understand him. On Cretacea you are given detailed descriptions of the world, the ship's activities, and Ahab's search for the Great White terrafin.

The futuristic Earth Ismael comes from has been stripped of every resource. It is a dismal world devoid of plants, animals, and oceans, where oxygen is manufactured. It is interesting to watch Ishmael and other new members of the crew get used to things like water, rain, and eating solid food while mysteries unfold about characters like Pip and Tarnmoor. The author is very good at placing puzzle pieces and allowing the reader to fit them together.

My only problem with the book is that the storytelling fails a bit in the end in favor of exposition. I preferred piecing together the truth of Cretacea with the clues given. All the exposition did is make me wonder why certain questions were left unanswered or poorly explained. I would love to elaborate, but I don't want to risk spoiling the ending for anyone, because I do think this story is worth the read. If you liked Moby Dick, much of the story is there, along with important timely messages about the environment and the need to rein in corporate interests. ( )
  jugglingpaynes | Jul 29, 2016 |
***This book was reviewed for the San Francisco Book Review***

Strasser’s Beast of Cretacea is one thrilling ride from start to finish. It was something fresh and innovative, with an unexpected surprise ending. If I could give this captivating read more than 5 stars, it ranks as one of the few books I would do so. Aside from the brilliant story, the cover was absolutely beautiful.

Cretacea is a re-imagining of Melville's Moby Dick, set in Earth’s dark future. Thankfully, this book dispenses with all of what made Moby Dick a terribly boring read to a twelve year old me- the chapters on marine life, whaling technicalities, and cetology in specific. What it keeps are things that would be familiar even to people who've never read Melville's classic- names like Ishmael, Queequeg, Ahab, and Starbuck, a hunting ship called the Pequod, a great white beastie, and Ahab’s burning obsession with said beastie.

Earth is dying. Covered in a smog and filth ridden greenhouse gas Shroud, water and food has become scarce. People of age are recruited to go on missions to distant places and hunt for food that is then processed and sent back.

Ishmael wakes from stasis aboard the Pequod. With him are several other new arrivals- Queequeg, Billy, Gwen, and Pip. Their very first day aboardship they learn just how dangerous this job can be. Two chaseboats have brought in a terrafin. In an attempt to kill the beast, one of the crew ends up dead, and the terrafin goes free. Though smaller than the hunting ships’ normal prey, terrafin (read manta rays on steroids) are among the most deadly.

Soon enough, Ishmael is named skipper if his own chaseboat, with Queequeg, Billy, and Gwen as his crew. They make friends, make enemies, and end up in some unlikely places, such as among pirates, a ‘Swiss Family Robison’ like group of castaways turned islanders, and the nest of a roc-like flyer. Through all their adventures runs the undercurrent of Ahab’s obsession with the white Great Terrafin.

Like its predecessor, Cretacea is a warning against the destructive seduction of obsession and revenge. In the end, it will cost you everything. It also showcases man's penchant for greed. The terrafin are valuable not as food, but commodities of a different sort. Just as whales were hunted for ambergris, the terrafin are hunted for a unique neurotoxin they produce.

It's a cautionary tale as well. This Earth, in the far (or not so far) future, has become a planet destroyed by the choking kudzu of humanity. The air is nigh unbreathable, food must be imported, the seas have disappeared. The waters are not locked in frigid glaciers. It's just gone. The planet is becoming uninhabitable.

I loved the surprise at the end! I was rather pleased that I figured out part of it about halfway through. It was the name of the places Ishmael and his foster-brother Archie were sent- Cretacea and Permia- that clued me in.

I truly can't recommend Strasser’s Beast of Cretacea enough. The author has an engaging style, with well-developed characters. There was never a dull moment, and the lessons offered within seem not like admonishments, but priceless wisdom we should heed. That Earth had Cretacea. We do not. ( )
  PardaMustang | Mar 13, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This book is a science fiction retelling of Moby Dick, and while I haven't read Moby Dick, I found this book to be quite enjoyable. The author makes a classic but outdated tale into something that even teenagers (a notoriously anti-classical reading bunch) will want to read. It took me a little while to get into this book, but once the story caught hold, I was along for the ride. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but this one is a good one! ( )
  Melodym1995 | Nov 18, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0763669016, Hardcover)

Master storyteller Todd Strasser reimagines the classic tale of Moby Dick as set in the future—and takes readers on an epic sci-fi adventure.

When seventeen-year-old Ishmael wakes up from stasis aboard the Pequod, he is amazed by how different this planet is from the dirty, dying, Shroud-covered Earth he left behind. But Ishmael isn’t on Cretacea to marvel at the fresh air, sunshine, and endless blue ocean. He’s here to work, risking his life to hunt down great ocean-dwelling beasts to harvest and send back to the resource-depleted Earth. Even though easy prey abounds, time and again the chase boat crews are ordered to ignore it in order to pursue the elusive Great Terrafin. It’s rumored that the ship’s captain, Ahab, lost his leg to the beast years ago, and that he’s now consumed by revenge. But there may be more to Captain Ahab’s obsession. Dark secrets and dangerous exploits swirl around the pursuit of the beast, and Ishmael must do his best to survive—if he can.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 05 Jul 2015 09:05:25 -0400)

Aboard the Pequod, seventeen-year-old Ishmael arrives on the planet Cretacea to hunt down great ocean-dwelling beasts to harvest and send back to the resource-depleted Earth. But the ship's captain, Ahab, who lost his leg to the Great Terrafin years ago, is obsessed with hunting down the beast. The classic tale of Moby Dick as set in the future.… (more)

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