Deep Trouble II
Series number: 58
Number of pages: 113
Release date: August 1997
Tagline: Something’s fishy… again!
Did I Read It as a Child?: No
The Story On the Back
Billy Deep and his sister Sheena are spending another summer in the Caribbean on their uncle’s totally cool floating lab. The weather is beautiful. And there are lots of neat places to go swimming and snorkelling. Billy and Sheena are great swimmers. But even great swimmers get into trouble-especially this year. This year there’s something really scary going on under the sea. The fish all seem to be growing. Bigger and bigger. Into monster-sized sea creatures. With monster-sized appetites…
The Story On the Pages
Some of the sequels that Stine choose to write really boggle the mind. Was Stine so very attached to Billy from Deep Trouble that he had to write another story for him thirty books down the line? Had Billy entered his mind and then never left, haunting R.L. in his dreams until he put pen to paper once more and gave him a sequel with Deep Trouble II?
If that was the case, it’s a shame that Billy didn’t stick around long enough to haunt Stine into writing a good sequel! Of all the scary things that are in the ocean that could have been written about, why was plankton the final product?
But I’m getting ahead of myself! Let me get you to that point in the plot before I start complaining!
Deep Trouble II opens on Billy and Sheena, the brother and sister duo from the first Deep Trouble. They’re back with their uncle, a scientist who makes everyone call him Dr. D, and they’re once again aboard his boat the Cassandra, a floating lab he sails into tropical waters to do his marine biology research. Last summer he took Billy and Sheena with him and they discovered a mermaid! But due to shit that goes down in that book, their discovery had to go unreported. This year, Billy is looking to discover something that will put him in the history books for sure.
Yeah, because history books are so concerned with who discovered fish?
Anyways, Billy and Sheena are snorkeling near Dr. D’s boat when they encounter a huge shark. And not just “abnormally-big-for-a-shark” like Jaws. This is like, megalodon levels of huge. Of course Dr. D doesn’t believe them because the sonar would have picked it up sooner, but who are we going to believe? The rational scientist adult or the POV that’s already admitted he loves to make-believe and gets lost inside his own head?
Obviously, we’re going with Billy!
Dr. D comes around to the idea of something freaky happening in the tropical waters pretty quickly when he catches a four foot fish and discovers it’s actually a minnow. That and the fact that Sheena and Billy are swallowed by giant jellyfish and are only barely able to escape with their lives when another, bigger jellyfish comes around and starts fighting the one that ate them.
Why would these jellyfish begin to fight, you might be asking. Because jellyfish are known the world over for their aggressive “it’s me or you” attitude.
Dr. D has no idea how to account for the bizarre things that are happening in the warm, crystal clear waters until he’s almost crushed by a giant snail. Yes, you read that correctly. He’s almost crushed by a giant sea snail. It begs the question of how slow he was moving if a snail, not only caught up, but overtook him?
How does this giant snail give him an idea about what’s happening? It was Billy’s snail! He brought it and his gold fish aboard for the summer and they’d been normal up to this point. The only thing that changed was Dr. D giving Billy some of his collected plankton to feed to them.
So it’s the plankton somehow making the sea creatures big!
I pretty much guessed that as soon as it was mentioned because Goosebumps books follow Chekov’s gun to a simplistic tee, but just play along and pretend the plankton is a surprise.
The next question that needs to be answered is why the plankton is doing this when it had never done so in the past. We don’t even have to wait a chapter to learn this information. Three men climb aboard the Cassandra and begin to question if the three have seen anything bizarre.
Billy blurts out that everything in this area is huge, believing the leader, Dr. Ritter, to be trustworthy. When Dr. D tries to play it off as his nephew’s insane imagination (because the man understands the looks Dr. Ritter is giving better than our thirteen year old idiot boy protagonist), Billy’s huge snail makes its way on deck to fuck them over.
And fuck them over, it does! The three of them are kidnapped by Dr. Ritter and his two goons and taken back to their boat, miles from the Cassandra and the reef where it was anchored. Why is this other scientist doing this? Because he’s quite mad!
Dr. Ritter has been releasing growth hormone filled plankton into the sea to grow fish to a monstrous size. He’s hoping to end world hunger, which is admirable, but why are you going about it in this way, Dr. Ritter? Shouldn’t you be doing this in a clean, sterile, and viewable lab environment that can be measured reliably for funders and grant givers to see? Why do it over miles of ocean where specimen are harder to observe and not bred for the specific purpose of lab testing?
All that aside, what do you think is his reason for kidnapping and then trying to kill a man and two children? If you said vanity, you are right and will be getting a prize in the mail! This asshole is willing to kill to make sure his growth plankton isn’t stolen by another scientist and he can get all the credit. Yet another reason you should be doing this in a controlled and regulated area! Just file your paperwork correctly and you’re all good! Not that putting patents on things is noble (which was your original intent), but that’s another story entirely.
Dr. D, Billy, and Sheena end up escaping when giant seagulls attack Dr. Ritter and his henchmen, because that’s yet another thing that happens when you don’t control your experiments, Ritter you jackass! They climb into a life raft and drift off into the ocean. They spend the night huddled together, drifting onto an island just as dawn breaks on the horizon.
The island is small enough to walk completely around in ten minutes and seems to have nothing to eat on it besides coconuts. And the idiots didn’t drag their life raft further onto the beach and it floated away, so it looks like they’ll have to get used to coconuts. Especially since a giant crab attacks them when they try to go into the water to fish.
So… is that it? Do these three spend the rest of their lives on a small desert island in the Caribbean Sea? Nah, giant dolphins push their life raft back to the island and then tow them back to the Cassandra. Introducing giant dolphins was literally the whole point of that round-about in the story. But hey, we’ve got a villain to resolve, maybe this will be good!
Dr. Ritter is waiting for them on the Cassandra and he just goes ahead and takes them all hostage again. He needs to keep his project secret after all. But instead of shooting them in the head like a proper villain would, he makes Billy grab a test tube of his growth plankton to ingest it. Why? Because it makes fish big when they eat it, but it turns humans into fish forever when they eat it…
Billy eats some and when it doesn’t work, Ritter loses what little is left of his insanity and drinks some of the plankton himself because he A) doesn’t want to go to jail, and B) wants to prove his plankton does turn humans into fish.
And what do you know, it actually does turn humans into fish because soon Ritter is flopping around the deck as a mackerel before diving into the sea. When Dr. D asks Billy why he didn’t transform, Billy admits he emptied and refilled a test tube with ice tea to pull a prank on Sheena and gross her out by pretending to drink plankton. He just grabbed the one he knew was ice tea and drank it when Ritter forced him.
Deep Trouble II ends with Sheena laughing and saying that she was going to pull the same prank on Billy. She grabs her test tube of ice tea and gulps it down. Except hers didn’t taste like ice tea. It tasted a little like plankton…
Looks like Billy is going to get to spend the rest of his life as an only child. At least, an only human child.
From the first Deep Trouble, we have Billy, Sheena, and Dr. D returning. It’s been a year since their discovery that mermaids are real and everyone is now a year older. Billy makes it known that he’s a more sophisticated thirteen year old boy now, not the silly twelve year old he was last summer. He follows up this statement by immediately make-believing that his sister is a giant octopus attacking him in the ocean.
Sophistication at its finest, folks!
Sheena gets even less to do now than she did in the first Deep Trouble (apart from living and/or dying a horrible fish-human life and/or death). FYI, what she was before was the completely serious one to Billy’s ridiculousness; and Dr. D is there for exposition and to be the adult that strikes the fire when they get stranded on the desert island.
None of our mains are particularly interesting. But our villain? I was marginally more into the story when this loon was on the page! Dr. Ritter is your general crazy scientist. Not a mad scientist, a crazy one. What’s the difference? Mad scientists work within the constructs of science, often lured into less than ethical practices because of the thrill of discovery or creation. Look at Frankenstein for the best example of a scientist doing something awful because it feels good to play God. For a Goosebumps example even, Margaret’s dad in Stay Out of the Basement was a mad scientist that was combining plants with animal DNA. A crazy idea to be sure, but carried out in controlled lab settings with the results marked down.
Dr. Ritter though? This guy is just fucking crazy! Though he claims this was done in the name of helping people, he’s not in it to better humankind, he’s in it for fame and money. Truly the worst kind of scientist. So to speed up the accolades he thinks he deserves, he takes an experiment that needed years more work in a lab and released it into the ocean with no heed to the negative consequences of his actions. Then to keep others from stealing his work, he kidnapped and was more than willing to kill. Just flat out murder children! Were Dr. D and the kids the first to put down an anchor in this part of the ocean, or has Ritter simply killed everyone who’s come before?
Dude’s a fucking nutjob! And worse, probably got his biology degree from a mail in correspondence course.
Spooks and Scares
Of all the things in the ocean to write a scary story around, why was genetically modified growth plankton what Stine decided on? Is the ocean itself not scary enough? The Mariana Trench is deeper than Mount Everest is tall, sharks have been discovered living in volcanoes, and light only goes down 200 metres before even it gets lost to the murky, black waters of the midnight zone. The midnight zone is its actual term, for Christ’s sake! There wasn’t anything you could do with that, Stine? It’s got a title already!
Instead we get plankton that makes things bigger. And yes, that could have been scary, but combining it with the clear, warm waters of the Caribbean? That’s still a tropic paradise that most would kill to live in. Why not put these gigantic creatures further down? Deep in the dark depths of the ocean. The oceans are less explored and hold more mysteries than space at this point; there’s really no excuse for this laziness!
Deep Trouble II’s biggest problem is that it strayed too far from the original tone. The first Deep Trouble was about the discovery of mermaids, creatures confined to myths alone. Instead of going in the opposite direction in its sequel to give us something more grounded in science (I know that’s an exaggeration with everything you just read, but just use some suspension of disbelief), it should have stayed in myth. And you know what’s a myth that’s both scary and fits the theme of big things lurking in the ocean?
Am I saying that the kids and their uncle have to go up against a Death Cult or the big bad Old God himself? No, because those stakes are too high for most fiction, let alone a Goosebumps book! But if you’ve got a scientist that spends more time on the ocean than land, why stick him in more or less the same spot he was in during the last book? Move away from the tropical location and have him in deeper, colder waters. R’lyeh, the sunken city where Cthulhu is said to sleep, lies just a few degrees off of the Nemo Point, or the Pole of Inaccessibility. Isn’t that a badass name? That’s the second title book you’re throwing away, Stine! The Pole of Inaccessibility is the point in the ocean that’s as far away from any landmass as possible and you’d think a marine biologist would be really interested in what’s there.
They could descend below the waves in a small research submarine and discover R’lyeh, be it actually underwater or through a dimensional wormhole. Stine penned stranger things than wormholes, he could have easily written a children’s Cthulhu tale! Or at the very least a tale that has them discovering a strange, underwater city. Maybe even Atlantis? Just somewhere with strange architecture that no one can explain and ties to things that are bigger than humans can comprehend.
That’s so my jam!
But instead we get another story set off the coast of some Caribbean Island. I understand why. The tropics are equated with sharks and sharks are scary (even though they really aren’t). Problem is, we see one shark during the whole endeavour before it swims away and leaves everyone alone. Something that actual sharks do. There’s also the fact that the water is safe enough to leave two pre-teens to go swimming or snorkeling in it by themselves whenever they want. If you can trust children in the area, the area isn’t scary!
Visiting tropical waters to explore a myth as prominent as mermaids is fine, (though there were problems in that story as well, but that’s a whole different article), but to go back again and on the idea that super growth plankton is making sea life big? The only thing that’s scary about that is the messy scientific practice! Deep water is where the terror lurks. It’s dark, it’s cold, it’s not full of desert islands, it’s not high traffic tourist stops.
Go to the tropical seas for vacations, go to deep waters for horrors.