I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Steve Alten’s MEG novels for the past decade and a half: Having been traumatized by JAWS at a very early age, I have  spent my life balancing out a mortal terror of sharks with an insatiable curiosity about them. Learning about real sharks is all well and good, but the sad fact is, there’s a real paucity of Shark-related fiction, once you’ve read Peter Benchley’s classic novel. Enter Steve Alten’s MEG. The titular shark is a Carcharodon Megaladon, a bigger, badder, thought-to-be-extinct relative of the Great White Shark. Giant Shark, carnage, mayhem….A can’t miss proposition for a deep-sea Horror novel, right? Yet Alten has, through four novels (Only three of which I have read, to date…) continuously missed the mark.

MEG: A Novel Of Deep Terror is the first book in the series, and introduces the reader to Jonas Taylor, a man who should stay far away from the ocean. Through a series of convoluted circumstances, Taylor lures a Megaladon up from it’s home at the bottom of The Mariana Trench, and unleashes it upon an unsuspecting world. Carnage ensues, and Taylor vows to destroy the shark. While Alten generally manages to keep things rolling along in a workmanlike fashion, he seems to be unable to stop himself from introducing ludicrous ideas and plot devices that are so eye-rollingly bad that they stop the story dead with their sheer ridiculousness. While a relic prehistoric Shark that has evolved over millions of years enveloped in total blackness at the bottom of the sea may very well be bioluminescent, reading the endless descriptions of people being killed by a gigantic, glowing, albino Shark who is lit up like an underwater full moon gets to be a little (Unintentionally…?) funny after a while. And (SPOILERS FOR A FIFTEEN YEAR OLD BOOK!!!!!!) by the time Jonas had been swallowed by the Shark and killed it by SAWING OUT IT’S HEART OUT FROM INSIDE IT’S BODY (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), Alten had long since lost me.

And yet, I came back for more.

MEG: The Trench sees Taylor return to The Mariana Trench, this time fighting giant Sharks AND underwater Dinosaurs. Osama Bin Laden gets name-checked as the money behind the book’s bad guy two years before 9-11.

Next was MEG: Primal Waters, which inexplicably jumps ahead 18 years, and sees Taylor fighting giant Sharks as part of a reality-show that is, in reality (ha ha ha….) a plot to kill him. Via Shark. All I can say about this book is that a Shark attacks a World Series game. Yes, I just said that. Really. (See what I mean, though? It’s bad stuff, but I bet you’re contemplating grabbing a copy to see if any of this stuff can be true…….)

Having not read MEG: Hell’s Aquarium yet, I was lured in by Mr. Alten’s new digital novella, MEG: Origins. The good news is, it’s probably Alten’s best work to date, topping his not-as-ridiculous-but-way-too-long-and-padded Loch Ness Monster epic, The Loch. The bad news is, as a prequel, if you’ve read the first book, you’ll already know exactly where this one is heading, how it’s gonna get there, and what’ll happen when they arrive. However, Alten tells a fairly compelling story, relating Taylor’s disastrous first encounter with a Megaladon, and although it’s been a long time since I last read MEG, he seems to do a fairly seamless job of connecting the original novel with the prequel. Alten’s prose is aided by wonderfully evocative chapter-opening illustrations from Erik Hollander, which really set the mood. There’s far less eye-rollingly bad stuff on display here than in his previous MEG novels, and he seems to lay a lot of groundwork for the upcoming fifth novel in the series. In his introduction to the novella, Alten states that he wrote MEG: Origins as a thank-you gift to his fans for their support. His fans should be happy, because Alten has delivered a fairly beefy story for less than a buck. It’s also an excellent jumping-on point for readers new to the MEG series…Unlike a lot of so-called prequels, it doesn’t rely on previous knowledge of the characters and events to make it’s point, and it ends on a note that’s likely to make you want to learn the answer to the famous literary question, “What happened next?”

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