RogerBW's Blog

The Nautilus Sanction, Simon Hawke 25 February 2023

1985 SF, fifth of its series. A stolen ballistic missile submarine is somewhere out there in time…

I wonder about the timing here. The Hunt for Red October came out in October 1984, so it's certainly possible Hawke could have read it… this isn't an imitation, of course, but the stories in the series up to this point have basically been personal ones, and this one shifts onto a much larger stage.

It's one of those plans that seems much more fragile up close than in the bits that worked easily in the background: the bad guys have stolen a whole lot of new "warp discs", a sort of time machine that's even more flexible than the old ones, in a range of sizes up to, well, Typhoon-class. They've built a hidden base (hidden in time as well as space). They've had years to prepare their plans, thanks to time travel. And yet, after a fair bit of despair from our heroes, dealing with the big plot turns out to be a matter of applying a moderate amount of military force in the right place; it all ends up being something of a let-down.

And part of the problem is certainly that Drakov, designated chief villain for the rest of the series, rather than putting his plan into action, chooses to play Captain Nemo, wrecking 19th-century warships with torpedo and plasma-gun fire. Is there any point to it? Is it necessary to his main plot? No, but if he didn't do it there wouldn't be a security hole by which the Time Commandos could break in and wreck it.

There's also a lot of infodumping here – Jules Verne (who's along on the official expedition to hunt the "giant narwhal") explains to other writers what the creature might be, and there are other explanations of how nuclear submarines work, and of Barataria, and indeed of the latter days of Jean Lafitte. Verne is clearly one of Hawke's heroes, and gets to be super smart and deduce everything everyone else is trying to hide from him; by the end, he's learned so much that mind-wiping him would probably destroy the books he hasn't written yet, so instead he's encouraged to write a fantasy version of what he's seen, leaving out any technical detail. (Which frankly would have been a much better explanation for why so much stuff in these books seems to happen just the way it did in classic novels, as opposed to "[shrug]".)

That doesn't leave much room for the series principals, and that's before we also have to infodump Dr Darkness, the deus ex machina inventor who for reasons of Plot can't personally intervene but who can hand out pocket miracles for the heroes to use. Lucas, Finn and André end up largely being spectators in their own story.

It's a fair old wrench after the first few stories, so at least Hawke isn't doing the recipe as before…

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