My First Technothriller

If one counts Clive Cussler (or, in this case, “Clive Cussler’s”) novels as technothrillers, then one called Fire Ice was the first techno-thriller I read. Then it gets weird because well, I honestly can’t remember the next ones I read until reading the The Big One alternate history novels, which is kind of like getting into cinema by watching The Room, Who Killed Captain Alex, and Plan 9 from Outer Space.

My next mainstream technothriller was Dale Brown’s Flight of the Old Dog, a perfectly good choice. My first Tom Clancy was Red Storm Rising. The big crossover was the Survivalist novels, where the tiny thread connecting the po-faced technothrillers I’d read before to the ridiculous action excess that series revealed to me was that both were technically World War III novels.

Review: Fire Ice

Fire Ice

The novel Fire Ice holds a great deal of importance to me. It was, without a doubt, the first real “cheap thriller” a young me read. This makes it hard to truly judge its literary quality. After all, young me saw the name Clive Cussler on the cover and didn’t know at the time about how the “co-author” system worked, so I assumed it was all him (which had the thankful effect of leading me to earlier Cussler books that were indeed all his own).

With its big locales, action, and high-stakes plot with a Russian oligarch and a supervillain scheme, this has all the ingredients a Cussler thriller and a cheap thriller in general needs. Certainly, for one’s first cheap thriller, you could do a whole lot worse than that. While my reading habits are such that another cheap thriller probably would have taken its place, I still owe Fire Ice a lot for getting me into them.

Clive Cussler, RIP

Clive Cussler died on Monday, February 24, his publisher confirmed. And it’s hit me because of how much of a spark his books were in getting me into cheap thrillers. The very first real “cheap thriller” I read was a Clive Cussler NUMA Files book, Fire Ice. More and more Cusslers soon found their way into my hands, both the earlier ones and the later “Tom Clancy’s” ones with different authors doing more and more of the heavy lifting.

Before Blaine McCracken, before Hawker Hunter, before John Rourke, before even Patrick McLanahan,  there was Kurt Austin and Dirk Pitt taking me through thrilling and sometimes strange adventures on the page. RIP.

Review: Shadow Tyrants

Shadow Tyrants


Deciding to try my luck with grocery store novels, I grabbed Shadow Tyrants, a “Clive Cussler’s” book written with Boyd Morrison. It was an Oregon Files novel, and it followed my rule of “go for the most out-there premise.” This had infighting amongst an ancient conspiracy, with only the Oregon and Juan Cabrillo able to stop them. What could go wrong?

The biggest problem is the prose. It’s not unread-ably bad, but still comes across as kind of simple and bland. Thus a premise that could have supported a delightfully goofy adventure ends up being hobbled and coming across as a 51% technothriller. (Although the super-conspiracy is still better and more capable than Casca’s Brotherhood ever was-those guys are the St. Louis Browns of super-conspiracies). There’s headline namedrops and clear “I know the name but not much else” descriptions of weapons systems.

There’s a lot of contrived deus ex machinas in close proximity to each other. I’d be more forgiving if the prose had cushioned it, but it instead amplified them. For instance, what could have been a excellent naval battle (the best use of the Oregon) ends up being just a disappointing clash of the technothriller gimmicks.

Worse, the “historical tie-in” seems even more forcefully shoved in. It’s not like the superweapons had an ancient component. It’s just that these ancient scrolls led to the super-conspiracy, and we get a shoved-in epilogue to remind us that Cussler books are supposed to feature grand adventures with historical artifacts, not just be middling technothrillers piggybacking on his reputation. Unfortunately, that ship sailed decades ago.

This is still a good enough “51% technothriller”, and it’s still more engaging and fun than just a rote “shoot the terrorist” thriller novel. But it, much like a lot of the other Oregon books, doesn’t live up to its potential.

Review: Skeleton Coast

Skeleton Coast

Arguably the very first “cheap thriller” I read was Fire Ice, in Clive Cussler’s NUMA Files. By this point (unbeknownst to me at the time), he had already entered his “Tom Clancy’s” phase, farming out a lot of spinoffs to different authors. One of my favorite and most enduring books of this time is Skeleton Coast.

The Oregon Files involves the titular super-ship disguised as a tramp freighter and its commander, Juan Cabrillo. Here it battles African rebels and a plot by an evil environmentalist to cause an environmental crisis (Trust me-do not expect the plots of Cussler books to make sense). There’s also the classic Cussler “Historical Flashback To The Present MacGuffin” scenes, which I was never the fondest of.

What makes Skeleton Coast succeed is its climactic battle. In many other books, the Oregon hasn’t really faced threats that are worthy of its armament and abilities. Here, it fights an army with all its firepower, and the result is very well done by cheap thriller standards. It feels a little more natural and a little less gimmicky than other Cussler books. For someone wanting to experience the huge “Cussler Franchise”, this book is one of the better entries.