RogerBW's Blog

Sea Strike, James H. Cobb 27 April 2018

Naval technothriller, second in the series dealing with Captain Amanda Garrett and the USS Cunningham. As a Chinese civil war turns one-sided, US forces intervene to prevent nuclear holocaust.

The setting is still 2006, or rather the divergent 1996+10. The major new chunk of technology is the Sea Raptor, an F-22 variant for carrier operations; although this possibility was one of the reasons for the choice of F-22 over F-23 in 1991, any plans had been cancelled by 1993. (There's occasional mention of the "Bombcat" F-14 variant, but nothing at all about the F/A-18 which in real 1997 was on its way to becoming the US fleet's workhorse fast jet for lack of any other contenders; this betrays a certain bias on the part of the author, which I notice because it's one I share.)

But this isn't as much of a book about the technology as the first one; instead it concentrates on the characters. There's a good start in that nobody's an outright villain, not even the non-military people or the one person who has the temerity not to agree completely with Captain Garrett (he's quickly shunted off out of the story instead); people may have conflicting goals, but everyone here at least thinks of themselves as being the good guys.

Unfortunately Cobb isn't terribly good at actually writing characters. The military people here are all loyally doing their part for whatever force they're in, which is fair enough, but mostly that's where their characterisation begins and ends. Occasional bits of banter feel like deliberate and artificial efforts to humanise these fleshy robots.

The major exception is that Garrett is now conducting an affair with an officer in her chain of command, and while she feels really bad about it she makes no particular effort to stop herself. The author's on her side, so this doesn't have any real negative consequences, but it left a very bad taste in my mouth. Garrett is perfect in every other way, to the point of approaching Mary Sue-dom, and felt to me rather less sympathetic than in the previous book.

As for the action, while the Cunningham is still the centrepiece, there are plenty of descriptions of other forces too. This is a larger-scale conflict than before, after all, and the rest of the Navy needs to get a look in. The climactic sequence sees Cunningham going into the Yangtze Estuary to recover a downed aircrew, which strikes me as a risk that no reasonable commander would authorise; but we're outside the realm of conventional probability here, and I imagine Cobb had the Amethyst Incident at least slightly in mind.

There are various odd sloppy errors; someone talks about a meeting at "oh one hundred hours this afternoon", thus completely missing how military time works. A ship heading west is steering "into the rising sun". In a series that prides itself on getting the real-world military detail right, these seem like strange places to err.

Followed by Sea Fighter, which apparently moves away from the Cunningham; since that's the reason I came to the series in the first place, and I don't find these characters at all compelling, I'm unlikely to continue. This book isn't terrible, but on the basis of what I read here I'm inclined to regard Choosers of the Slain as a one-off success.

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  1. Posted by John Dallman at 10:11pm on 27 April 2018

    Choosers of the Slain had a few good moments, but this sounds pretty poor. I like naval action, but didn't feel inspired to buy CotS after reading your copy.

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