Harper Torch, 2000, 482 pages, C$9.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-06-103065-1
Show me a critic without an author they love to hate and I will show you a reviewer without passion, without the killer instinct so necessary in this often-dreary job. While some will save their bile for Piers Anthony, Kevin J. Anderson or William Shatner, I’ve had three remarkably enjoyable occasions so far to slag the work of Patrick Robinson: His Nimitz Class, Kilo Class and H.M.S. Unseen remain some of the most pathetic attempts at the techno-thriller genre ever written.
(Note for sensible readers: No, I don’t hate Patrick Robinson as a person. For all that I know, he’s probably a great human being who’s kind to humanity, fond of little animals and respectful of the biosphere. We could probably enjoy a fascinating conversation over a good meal and I’d feel ashamed of everything I’ve written about his books. Until then, however, his books don’t measure up to the accepted standard and you can read my reviews to understand why.)
Given such past credentials, I was all ready and anxious to start reading U.S.S. Seawolf: Hurrah! Another occasion to make fun of Robinson’s right-wing raaah-America screw-international-relations politics! Another sorry attempt at “plotting”! Another set of unlikable cardboard characters! Another book packed with clunky exposition! Whee!
Imagine my surprise when I started thinking that U.S.S. Seawolf wasn’t actually half-bad.
Don’t make any mistake; it’s still not a very good techno-thriller. But as compared to his other three books, it actually holds up a lot better.
For one thing, there is a plot of sorts that goes beyond the sort of sloppy “let’s destroy foreign submarines” excuse passed off in Kilo Class. This time around, an American submarine (the titular Seawolf) doing stupid things off China’s coastal waters is accidentally damaged by the Chinese navy, captured and dragged to a Chinese port. It’s an eerie scenario, especially given how, in early 2001, an American plane doing stupid things off China’s coastal waters was accidentally damaged by the Chinese Air Force, captured and dragged to a Chinese airport. (Ooooh.) From then on, the Americans implement a rescue mission, which is implemented with the usual thrilling amount of difficulty. It’s not Shakespeare, but it works rather well. For one thing, U.S.S. Seawolf avoids the lengthy useless stretches of, say, H.M.S. Unseen.
One annoyance left intact from Robinson’s earlier novel is his casual disregard for the niceties of diplomatic intervention. As a true Republican believer in the Bush doctrine, Robinson’s novels are packed with preemptive (and excessive) strikes against foreign targets, usually resulting in a staggering number of civilian deaths that are shrugged away with choice racial epithets. Here, it’s not a hydro-electrical dam in Iraq (U.S.S. Nimitz) or a number of Chinese submarines (Kilo Class) but the intentional meltdown of a nuclear reactor, leading to entire blocks of a Chinese city being showered with radioactive slag. Thoughtful. Given the number of offencive racial slurs used by Robinson’s so-called protagonists, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if his next novel features a warship manned by members of the Aryan Nation.
Moving on… Robinson usually has some trouble ending his novel, but here again U.S.S. Seawolf manages to be only slightly better than the rest of his usual crap: After a triumphant rescue in which most members of the submarine are rescued, ugly politics intrude thanks to a no-good son-of-a-politician and a protagonist ends up killing himself. Whee, what fun! But have no fear, because series superhero Arnold Morgan, in between chewing cigars, spitting at presidents, planning genocide, insulting countries and boinking his sexy secretary (whose characterization seems taken from Playmate profiles), decides that he can’t have that and tenders in his resignation. Or something like that. Read the rest in the next thrilling instalment. I might have cared had it been even a mediocre book.
Wait! Wait! Did I say that U.S.S. Seawolf was better than Robinson’s other novels? What was I thinking? Was it the deliciously ambiguous portrait of an incompetent military officer? The rather good SEAL-team operational details? Or momentary delusion brought about by disbelief? Goodness gracious! It is as bad as his other novels! Hurrah! Bring on the fifth one! Patrick Robinson; I love to hate your stuff! More, please!