Review: The Hunt For Red October

The Hunt For Red October

This is it. The book that started it all. The book that turned Tom Clancy into a juggernaut. It’s time to review The Hunt For Red October. How is it? In short, it’s well-ok?

What I can say about this tale of a loose super-submarine is that it doesn’t really pass the “if this had been published a year or two later by a different author, would it still be as popular as it was?” test. Many works of fiction are so good on their own terms that they’d succeed in that goal. This isn’t. If it had been written by someone else later on, it’d probably be barely remembered as a middle-of-the-road technothriller.

The novel itself isn’t bad by any standards, but it still has all of the issues that would drag Tom Clancy down later on. It’s just those are in a smaller and more manageable form. There’s some bloat, but it’s manageable here. There’s a few too many subplots, but they’re manageable here. There’s the bias, but it’s manageable here. You get the idea. It’s easy to see why it could be a success in its time, but with hindsight, and with me having read other technothrillers before it, I don’t find it that impressive.

It’s also a little dated. Some of it is technical issues that are understandable and minor (for instance, a western author could be forgiven for getting the type of reactor in an Alfa-class wrong). But some of it is the general “wow” factor, again that would have made them a lot more impressive to someone at the time than to a post-Gulf War reader for whom advanced military technology is familiar. This is of course an issue with all of his books and with technothrillers in general. However, it is not an issue with the lavishly-produced, well-filmed movie.

I would say that, like Red Storm Rising, The Hunt For Red October is more of a historical book than an enduring technothriller that can really stand on its own. However, Red October comes across slightly worse in that regard due to being in a bigger niche. While also smaller than I originally thought, the number of technothrillers is still considerably larger than the number of conventional World War III novels.

Review: Hunter-Killer

Hunter-Killer

hkcover

Before I start my review of Hunter-Killer (or its original title, Firing Point), the submarine thriller novel about the rogue commander of the Russian Northern Fleet and the American submarine out to stop him, I must mention that I have not seen the movie adaptation. What I’ve heard about said adaptation from other people ranges from “bad, but in an amusing way” to “bad, and not in an amusing way.” But I wouldn’t know any better.

So, for the book itself, what I got was something that was neither bad (amusing or not) nor really all that good. It was a sort of middle-of-the-road technothriller (this is not an insult) that was too bulky for its own good (there’s a big plotline barely related to the submarine stuff about Russian mobsters manipulating the stock market that only exists as a form of additional ‘crisis overload’) but still managed to avoid the clunkiness of say, a later Tom Clancy book.

The submarine action itself? Passable. The SEAL action? Passable. The characters? Ehh, a little less than passable. The book was published in 2012, but feels incredibly 1990s in its depiction of Russia, some of its technology, and its overall tone. That’s one of the few really interesting things about it, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it turned out that some of the drafts were written in that decade. Other than that, Hunter Killer/Firing Point is just a humdrum popcorn technothriller that unfortunately embraces length for length’s own sake. There’s a lot worse out there, but there’s also a lot better.

Review: World War III: The Beginning

World War III: The Beginning

By the early 2000s, while the mainstream technothriller was declining, the self-published one was on the rise. In time this would lead to a very unique paradigm that I definitely wish to explore. But it also got some stinkers, like this. Despite the title, I could find no other books by Fulgham.

This is a submarine book, so it has the perils of submarine fiction. Or at least it would have if it wasn’t so badly written that any genre problems become secondary.

Icelands

The structure of this book is rather cliche and technothriller-y, albeit applied in a very, very sloppy way. What it does is have its cake and eat it too with a “Islamic Republic” that has a giant carrier navy. (The first edition was in 2000, after 9/11 the author tried to claim it was prescient.)

So yes, we get Conference Room Infodumps. Rushed and sloppy conference room infodump.

Rivets

A lot of the technical designations for aircraft and the like are just made up, but where this book shines in rivet-counting is in submarine operation commands. I hope you like reading submarine bridge commands, because it feels like 3/4 of the book consists of them.

Zombie Sorceresses

The antagonists-a Middle Eastern superstate with three times as many aircraft carriers as the US Navy (!), are the perfect zombie sorceress state. Very little else really comes close.

The “Wha”?

Well, the characters are mostly flat, the biggest issue being that they’re always referred to by their first names. The plot is a confused vague mess of technothriller mush and some submarine bridge commands. Oh, and a romance. Mustn’t forget the romance between the female commander and her male XO (who I suspect strongly is an author Mary Sue). Yeah.

The Only Score That Really Matters

As a book itself, this is forgettably bad, one for just the self-published slush pile. But as an example of a certain kind of book, it’s a good early case study. The self-published thriller that lacks both the polish of a mainstream book and the attention to detail of an enthusiast story is one I’ve seen too much of.

So while a mainline technothriller, especially a later one, will have somewhat exaggerated gimmicks (IE, Dale Brown’s “stop the superlaser”), and an enthusiast one will have detailed, at least nominally grounded forces (The 20th Guards Motor Rifle Brigade and 2nd Tank Brigade crossed the border…) , this just goes “unite the Middle East and plop down dozens of aircraft carriers”. In a way it’s actually endearing.

One slightly redeeming quality to Fulgham’s book is that it’s short, unlike the somewhat similar but utterly unreadable Dragon’s Fury by Jeff Head.

I cannot recommend World War III: The Beginning, unless you like submarine steering commands. Then it’s the best book ever.