RogerBW's Blog

Dangerous Ground, Larry Bond and Chris Carlson 24 March 2014

A Los Angeles-class submarine, USS Memphis, goes on an intelligence-gathering mission off Novaya Zemlya.

Yes, another submarine story, but my word, what a contrast with SSN. This is a bit more like it; here we have characters, with names and personality traits and everything. Rather than the boat being the latest and shiniest pride of the fleet, she was scheduled for decommissioning until that was reversed for this one last mission; her captain is a martinet; she has to accommodate two civilian specialists without prior submarine experience; and our hero and viewpoint character, Jerry Mitchell, is a failed naval aviator who's used political pull to get himself assigned to a submarine billet rather than the surface fleet, so he starts out with low credibility and skills, and has to work hard to overcome both these problems.

Maybe it is just the contrast, but I found myself really enjoying this. The men of the US Navy aren't all paragons of perfection; their opposition isn't made up exclusively of venal and incompetent idiots. There's a sense of danger, of the possibility that the mission might fail or indeed that people might die. All right, it's not a spoiler to say that the good guys win – that's really one of the requirements of the genre – but it's certainly not the absolute flawless crushing victory of SSN.

Indeed, this isn't for the most part a story about submarine battles. It's a story about the development of a person who is a submarine officer on a perilous mission.

The story moves somewhat beyond a strict accounting of real modern technology in that Memphis is fitted with several remotely-operated vehicles, each with its own set of limitations as to sensors and battery power, and it's pleasing to see these juggled in a practical and plot-relevant way.

I will keep an eye out for more by Carlson (who, I note, was also involved in the 4th edition of the Harpoon naval wargame rules).

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See also:
SSN, Tom Clancy

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