RogerBW's Blog

HMS Unseen, Patrick Robinson 02 September 2014

Airliners over the Atlantic are being shot down by submarine-launched missiles. How can this be stopped? Spoilers.

This really is parody. I don't mean just the standard technothriller stuff where everyone in the US or allied militaries is strong, rich, handsome, brave, smart, and so on, and everyone else isn't (especially Arabs and liberals); I'm thinking particularly of the way that, in order to provide a suitably high-value air target, Robinson resurrects the hopelessly-overweight Boeing 2707 SST design from the 1960s, claiming that it would have worked first time round if those darn pinko liberal commies hadn't made the government stop funding it… clearly, real men don't mind sonic booms and uneconomically huge fuel consumption. Probably puts hair on your chest.

What's more, the villain gets exactly what he wants: Robinson is clearly so impressed by the diesel submarine (and obviously the only thing better than a Kilo class is an Upholder) in the hands of an expert that the villain basically succeeds in all his goals. It's only thanks to a crisis of faith that he allows himself to be captured; he then uses his captors to take revenge on his previous employers before killing himself.

The narrative keeps moving well enough, though there's a long description of a drive from Scotland to Fishguard and then across Ireland which really didn't need to name all the motorways involved. But the set pieces, like the theft of the titular submarine while she's being got ready to be sold to Brazil (actually it was Canada that bought the Upholders in 1998, but Robinson was obviously trying to write up-to-the-minute stuff, so that's fair enough), are still decent, though there aren't many of them. We spend more time with the main villain than with the people hunting him, who mostly get to react to his cleverness.

The main plot ends about two-thirds of the way through, with the crisis of faith mentioned earlier, and then there's even less naval stuff as the villain goes off in random directions before his eventual surrender. Had the stories been better integrated, I think this might have worked better. Near the end there's a particular implausibility, where Tomahawk missiles are modified to… no, I'll let you find out for yourself. I fell out of my chair laughing, and it's not many books that can produce that reaction in me. Pity it wasn't the intended one.

These aren't good books by any means, and Robinson doesn't seem to be developing as a writer. They're amusing diversions, but they could really stand to lose some of the padding.

I'm told this is one of his best. Oh.

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  1. Posted by John Dallman at 06:24pm on 04 September 2014

    Yup, I'm afraid that is one of the best of the ones I've read. I gave them up after USS Seawolf, which is much worse IMHO.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:25pm on 04 September 2014

    I may at some point give USS Seawolf a try. But I do have lots of other things to read, and I feel that I've now given Robinson a fair shot at pleasing me with his writing.

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