RogerBW's Blog

Nimitz Class, Patrick Robinson 04 August 2014

In a now-alternate 2002, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier suddenly disappears at sea, apparently in a nuclear accident. What happened?

An odd book, with much of the outside form of the Tom Clancy-style technothriller, but at times so overdone that it verges on self-parody (for example the gung-ho introductory sequence about how amazing and powerful the Nimitz class is). I've read plenty of books in which a "good" president is one who's in favour of letting the military do whatever they like, but I think this is the first time I've met such a president explicitly described as a Republican.

Anyway, the USS Thomas Jefferson (the same name Bill Keith picked for the ship in his Carrier series a few years earlier, which were just starting to get out of hand when this was being written since the publisher had assigned new authors to the series) is gone by the end of chapter two, as well as everyone we've read about up to that point. The rest of the book is an investigation into what happened.

Robinson's research is surprisingly spotty. He's obviously talked to lots of submarine officers, particularly of the Royal Navy. (Several anecdotes told by and about the RN are blatantly lifted wholesale from real events recounted in One Hundred Days, which Robinson co-wrote with Sandy Woodward; there's one in particular about sneaking up on a carrier disguised as a Bengali cruise liner, which is used several times over. Robinson has clearly also picked up a prejudice in favour of diesel boats in shallow water as opposed to big ocean-going nuclear submarines.) But for example there's no mention of the satellites that would give the first warning of a nuclear detonation, and several passages about exotic foreign places read as though they were cribbed from a tourist guide:

… Kumkapi, the packed waterfront area of Istanbul, with literally dozens of excellent fish restaurants sprawled along the shore.

On hot August nights, the place gave the appearance of an immense street party, and the haunting beat of Middle Eastern music filled the air. The smell of a million spices mingled with the aromas of grilled fish, hot, frying peppers, and night-black Turkish coffee.

There are several interesting technical sequences (a SEAL raid on Iranian submarine pens, an underwater transit of the Bosphorus), but the former turns out to have absolutely nothing to do with the main plot, and the latter seems as though it was put in mostly for the joy of it; it doesn't directly gain anything, it just gets the President on-side. Both bits are well-written, but end up feeling pasted on.

There's really very little in the way of characterisation here; most people get their one character trait, and they hardly ever meet any opposition. There's lots of sitting about talking about the need to get information, but that information is generally very easily come by. The question of what happened is resolved almost immediately; then it's a matter of jet-setting around the world picking up the information that other people have gathered, and tracking down the bad guys.

This book is like a synthetic mass-produced lager: it's fine while you're consuming it, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouth afterwards. Even so I'll probably read some more by Robinson, in the hope of getting more naval action and less second-rate spy stuff.

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  1. Posted by John Dallman at 09:10am on 04 August 2014

    I've read more Robinson than this, and it gets a bit better, but not a whole lot. Characters reoccur, doing the same things but more so. The author retains a blissful unawareness of his limitations, under the impression that his retired RN submarine officers know everything about all naval matters in all countries.

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