Behold, one of the strongest forces in nature: the iron-clad grip of popular fiction. The page-turner, the blockbuster, the serial drama that sends us diving for the DVR — they sink their hooks into our fleshiest bits, and keep piercing until they hit daylight on the other side. Having witnessed my Dad get a fishing lure caught in his hand once, I can say with authority that those hooks don't come out easily, no sir.
What is it about pop-fiction that draws us in? Clearly there's no proven formula, given how much utter crap litters the landscape. However, one particular tactic that seems to help is the "Wait, is that real?" factor. If the audience thinks there might be a sprinkling of truth in the premise, the hooks will often sink just a little bit deeper. Nobody did this better than Michael Crichton — I didn't actually realize "The Andromeda Strain" was a novel until about a quarter of the way through. "The Blair Witch Project" pulled millions into the theater by passing itself off as real. Sprinkle in just enough facts, and you've got 'em. It's a trick that's earned Dan Brown more money than General Motors.
I bring this up because nature just bounced Hollywood an easy layup. The deepest lake in the world has sprouted mysterious ice circles, that no one noticed until the International Space Station flew overhead. The lake in question is Lake Baikal, and its resume is tailor-made for the setting of pop-fiction's next blockbuster.
• It's the deepest lake in the world, reaching more than a mile into the Earth. • It's also the largest freshwater lake by volume. • It's in Siberia, a foreboding and distant land. • It's near Irkutsk, which is one of the regions on a "Risk" game board, so hey, bonus there. • To top it off, it's among the oldest lakes anywhere, with waters that have been churning for 25 million years.
Into this setting comes a pair of unexplained circles melting through the lake's surface. Oh sure, there's more than likely a logical, fascinating explanation for the phenomena. But until geologists figure it out, this is prime real estate. Hollywood, I'll give you five ways to use it. Let me know where to pick up my check.
One) The circles are the final warning of an invasion. Aliens have been hiding in Lake Baikal ever since the Tunguska event of 1908, a massive meteoric explosion that occurred not far to the north. A cagey scientist who's separated from his wife is the first to figure it out, and has to argue his way up the chain of command. No one in the military believes him except a reckless fighter pilot and a sexy cryptographer/hacker. Together they discover the aliens' master plot, but not before the aliens burst from below the ice and begin the invasion. The cagey scientist reconciles with his estranged wife before sacrificing himself to save the day. The pilot and the hacker, presumed dead, ride a snowmobile off into the sunset, to start a new life together.
Two) The circles are a sign that something has gone terribly wrong within the Earth's core. The military's top unit investigates the lake, only to be wiped out by a torrent of lava. To get the job done, they need the best of the best. They seek out a cagey scientist who's separated from his wife, and tell him to put together a team of misfits to travel through the lake's floor and save the planet. The team includes an awkward nerd, a crazy Australian, a grizzled old drunk, a brunette bombshell who can fix any engine, a zen-like martial arts master, a Hispanic demolitions expert from the Bronx, his younger brother, and the cagey scientist's dog. The Australian banters with the martial-arts guy, the drunk kicks booze, the nerd gets the brunette, one of the brothers dies, the scientist reconciles with his estranged wife before sacrificing himself to save the day. Not so much as a hair on the dog's head is harmed.
Three) The circles are a nexus of paranormal activity. At the intersection of coincidence and fate, a group of strangers with diverse backgrounds encounter one another on the shores of the lake. They must rely on one another to survive, but don't know who to trust. Alliances form and are shattered. Each week, another piece of the puzzle falls into place ... what are the circles? Who is controlling them? Why can they hear the thoughts of an expedition that perished there in the 1850s? And above all, who is "The Czarina?" The more we learn of these characters, the more they become blurry shades of gray on the black and white scale of morality. Also, one of them stutters.
Four) The circles are hidden by a secret order of knights. A young girl from a broken home discovers that she is one of them, and must leave her life behind to train in their mystic ways. The circles must be protected from the evil intentions of the Red Mark, a faction of deadly assassins that splintered off from the knights hundreds of years ago. The girl is gifted, but repeatedly defies the elders by using modern technology to help solve mysteries. Each book takes her to a different locale, where other ice circles are forming. Africa, South America, London, Berlin, Tokyo — she travels the world, but inside she is still the girl from the broken home. The series is pre-planned at eight books; the sixth one turns out way too long.
Five) The circles are opposite ends of a powerful battle ground. Their appearance heralds the emergence of an ancient race of super-beings. Robots, or sentient dinosaurs, or maybe animal-people that ride futuristic airbikes. Something collectible, which may or may not be tied to an established franchise cherished by Gen Xers in their youth. The super-beings have good guys and bad guys, who must fight. The bad guys seek only chaos and destruction, while the good guys have the help of four ethnically mixed children who are best friends. The military is powerless to intervene. One of the friends betrays them because the bad guys have promised him glory, but in the end he does the right thing. For some reason the lake is in America and everyone involved is American, even though the fate of the entire world is in the balance.