The Bottom of the Sea – Zachary Jernigan

About the Book

THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA is an e-book collection of five short stories, one of which is a previously unpublished work. (The others made their appearances in ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION, THEAKER’S QUARTERLY FICTION, and PAX AMERICANA.)

At close to 30,000 words, these five narratives span the whole range of speculative fiction, from near future sf, to space opera, to modern-day fantasy.

80 pages (ebook)
Published on September 5, 2013
Author’s webpage


Short stories are hard for me to review, so I almost never do it. I either love them or I hate them. There really is no middle ground. I also think short stories are harder for authors to do well. There is less time to build a world, develop characters, make a compelling plot, and tell a good story. Less time means it is easier for people to mess up on execution, and those mess ups are often quite impressive.

Basically, short stories are hard for people to write properly, and for that reason I try not to read them. I also try not to review them because I don’t like doing it. Most of my time is spent summarizing stories, which bugs me, so I usually end up writing the kind of reviews that authors hate, where I just discuss overall impressions without dissecting the stories themselves.

It’s a love/hate relationship, and I always fail at it.

Jernigan, author of No Return, has a unique writing style that just does it for me. Anyone who has read No Return will know that Jernigan holds nothing back with his unique world building, and that’s probably why I love his writing so much. Nothing about what he creates is standard. I never read a word in No Return and thought, “Wow, this reminds me of (insert other book here).” Whatever he writes will be completely unique to him. In this day and age, being able to say that about an author is rare and I treasure it when it happens.

So how does that unique flair work when it is compacted into a short story? In a novel, Jernigan has plenty of time to explore his world. He can develop it slowly and with finesse. In a short story, he can’t. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how he’d handle the short story challenge, but I’m pleased to say that he doesn’t let his readers down. Everything you love about Jernigan thrives in his short stories, and in some cases, the short length just makes his writing that much more powerful.

The Bottom of the Sea is comprised of five short stories. This anthology shows off Jernigan’s stunning ability to write many different styles. Perhaps what is most impressive is the fact that the stories are so incredibly diverse, taking place in other worlds, futuristic worlds, involving gods, disabilities, and whatever else, but each story is crafted to perfection and the worlds, histories and characters are meticulously and surprisingly developed.

One of the most impressive aspects of The Bottom of the Sea is that, no matter how diverse the stories are, they all deal with intense emotional themes. There’s a heavy quality to this book that makes the reader instantly feel like they are probably sitting in on a very private part of Jernigan’s psyche. Not only does he show a very personal part of himself to the reader, he also pushes boundaries and forces readers to really explore and really think about love, loss, privilege, belief and so much more. He takes fundamental feelings and understandings, dissects them, and forces the reader to make sense of it all. It’s quite artistic, really, and honestly rather genius.

Jernigan has a tendency to leave rather open endings, which can make the deeper themes and emotions he plays with just that much more powerful. He sucks the reader in, takes them on a fantastic journey, and then leaves them with just enough information to spend a bit of your spare time imagining what happened next. That’s a huge hallmark of being a good author – he can pull you in in such a short amount of time, and leave you gaping once the story has ended. It’s quite impressive, really.

He also has a knack for slowly revealing things as he writes, which is surprising, especially in short-story form. The worlds have a tendency to be instantly visible and real while the intricacies of the history, culture and/or whatever else is subtly and naturally woven in. This really lets the reader experience an intense sense of wonder while Jernigan slowly reveals the wonderful world(s) and cultural details that accompany each story. Jernigan has a unique flare for powerful world building at the best of times. He truly seems to love science fiction, and he infuses The Bottom of the Sea with that passion. He really stretches his wings and his unique, well developed, and diverse worlds/places benefit from it. 

While this review might seem like an incredibly general piece of crap for an anthology, I’m hoping that it is exactly the opposite. The thing is, The Bottom of the Sea is a very powerful collection. It contains five short stories, but summarizing them would take away some of their magic. Half the thrill is discovery. The diversity in this collection is impressive but it is Jernigan’s writing that really knocks my socks off. The worlds are incredibly well developed. All the details I love are naturally woven in. Each story is different, and therefore each story will provoke new and unique thoughts in readers. Not only has Jernigan written a powerful collection, but it is a powerful collection that is strangely intimate. The Bottom of the Sea is incredible.

The Bottom of the Sea will be available for purchase on September 5.


5/5 stars


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