The Black by Paul E. Cooley – Audiobook Review

Cover artowrk for The Black that shows an offshore oil rig with large tentacles coming out of the water to get it.
The cover art for this edition is just amazing

It wasn’t a normal day on the floating oil rig, the Leaguer. With the help of some skilled specialists, the offshore rig made the discovery of a lifetime: an oil field as large as Saudia Arabia composed of pure sweet crude. Except the crude wasn’t exactly crude. It moved on its own, random bubbles appeared, and at times, a long thin eyestalk would grow out of the substance.

Welcome to The Black, a book written by Paul E. Cooley about a team of oil roughnecks who discover some sort of Lovecraftian life just underneath the surface of the earth, deep under the ocean.

Believe it or not, the plot of The Black feels like a spiritual successor to Quiet Please’s The Thing on the Fourble Board. Both stories go into intimate detail about the drilling process. Both stories feature well-written characters. And well, both feature a creature that is right out of fever dreams.

The real question is it worth a listen? Read on to find out!

The Story

The story begins with the arrival of drilling engineer Calhoun at the offshore oil rig, the Leaguer. Calhoun leads a small motley crew of specialists who assist with the drilling of a massive underwater find. The specialists consist of Shawna, a top geologist for the oil company. JP, a former Navy Seal who works as a professional diver. And Catfish, a programmer, and designer of remote underwater vehicles.

The old cover art of The Black that shows a tentacle attacking an offshore oil rig
The old cover art was just as good

They arrive on the Leaguer to a cold reception and for the first half of the book, it’s all office politics between the specialists and the rig crew. The specialists play by their own rules which naturally conflicts with the rig chief, Vraebel. Things get heated until they finally manage to get a sample of oil.

Except it’s not normal oil. It’s actually a living creature that consumes almost everything it touches, expanding in both power and mass. As Calhoun and Vraebel continue to fight each other, the Black spreads throughout the rig, turning a game of politics into a fight for survival.

The ways in which the Black consumes people is just rough. One guy looks up to see the goo pouring down from the ceiling, straight down his throat. The black goo acts like acid, quite literally melting people.

It also takes various shapes, reminiscent of John Carpenters’ The Thing, and just as creepy with appendages being launched from the substance.

Worse yet, when the mainland realizes that the oil is a biohazard, the desperate crew is left to themselves. There is no rescue nor is there any way to escape.

Is It Good?

In short. Yes. This is a fun read. The first half of the book starts up slowly as Cooley paints a picture of life on the Leaguer. I really appreciated his details on life aboard a floating oil rig. I’ve never imagined the life of a roughneck but Cooley presents a snapshot that feels quite authentic from eating meals in the lunch room to performing underwater inspections. The Leaguer feels like a real place with real people.

The Black takes a lot of inspiration from The Blob and The Thing

Yet, when trouble does arrive, it’s not out of place. It feels like a natural escalation in tension. O f times in “monster” books, the author gets so busy with worldbuilding that when the creature shows up, it can feel like an unwelcome guest. Cooley gracefully layers his narrative always building to the moment when the creature arrives.

As for the Black itself, it is insidious. While it pools down the stairs or fills up corridors, it also makes use of the vents, catching several characters by surprise. It’s a lot of fun and Cooley does not pull his punches. Plot armor was left on shore because everyone is fair game in this book.

That said, there were some minor nitpicks. The third act does feel like it runs a little too long. Also, once the deaths start happening, they start to lose their punch. Also, there is the lingering question about “what happens on the mainland” from the sample, but I’m guessing we’ll discover it in a sequel.

Again, these are only nit-picks in a very entertaining horror book.

The Audiobook

Paul E. Cooley has been writing for quite a bit of time. Prior to this publication, he used to narrate his own audiobooks.

Paul E. Cooley is quite a prolific writer

With this rerelease, Joe Hempel takes on the narrating duties and does a good job with his Texan drawl (at least, from the perspective of a Connecticut Yankee). He also does a fine job creating all the various voices so that it’s easy to tell the various characters. His voice work is good, never becoming monotonous and he was able to keep me engaged throughout the entire book.

With this re-release, Cooley’s old book has disappeared from Audible. And with it, the follow-up books have also disappeared. My guess is they are being re-recorded now so if you enjoyed this story (and you will) then there’s a lot more coming.

Verdict:

4 out of 5 infected oil drums

This is a solid read and worth picking up for both horror buffs and the general audience. It’s definitely worth putting in your Audible wishlist.

The Black at Amazon / Audible (affiliate link)

By Brian Moakley

Brian Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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