Atlantis Found, Clive Cussler

Berkley, 1999, 532 pages, C$10.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-425-17717-3

In reviewing a Dirk Pitt[TM] adventure, there’s a tightrope path in between being an annoying spoilsport and a credulous fanboy. Cussler’s fiction is certainly not respectable litterature. Even allowing for the usual sub-standard latitudes given to genre fiction, Dirk Pitt’s adventures have serious problems. The structure of Cussler’s last dozen novels follow more or less the same template, down to the historical prologue. The breakneck pacing actually hides remarkably long stretches of nothingness. His protagonists are so invulnerable as to defy common sense. The series of whoppers he has managed to uncover in each successive novel have an uncanny way of disappearing before the next one.

But that’s just your reviewer being a boring pedant: It’s not as if Cussler’s flaws aren’t already obvious to anyone who’s read even two of his novels. Find someone who has read more than two, however, and you’re likely to find someone who has learnt to enjoy the books on their own terms, as two-fisted adventures with some crunchy historical speculation. In fact, find someone who has read a third Cussler novel and you’re likely to find someone on their way to read them all: While a steady diet of Dirk Pitt adventures would be brain-damaging, there’s nothing wrong with a yearly shot of Cussler craziness.

And there’s plenty of craziness in Atlantis Found for sure. Heck, even the title spoils very little: While stalwart Dirk Pitt indeed goes on to find the titular Atlantis, you won’t believe what else stands in his way: Modern-day Nazis, shadowy assassins, rotten weather, doomsday plans, nanotechnology and maybe even matrimony. Whew! As Cussler fans have come to expect, there’s the requisite archaeological expeditions, car chases, delicious dialogue, Clive Cussler cameo and a big race against time before Something Really Bad Happens. Good good fun.

One could conceivably point out that the book hovers even more dangerously that usual above flat-out auto-parody, but that would be both self-obvious and, of course, annoying. Much like one could point out the scientific mistake in describing nanotechnology as a science with the potential to build things using new metals (P.243: er, no; it’s molecular technology, not atomic!): once again that would be criticizing the tree and ignoring the forest. After Cussler’s inclusion of a secret Lunar base in Cyclops, it’s hard to get worked up about his bad science or nonsensical plot developments.

Heck, it’s difficult not to stand up and cheer considering the amount and quality of outlandish material crammed into Atlantis Found. Even casual Antarctic buffs will squeal in glee at the surprise appearance of the Snow Cruiser late in the book. Plus, you won’t believe what’s in the Nazi relics box (nor what happens to it). Ironically enough, all of this clever intellectual madness makes Cussler’s exposition scenes far more interesting than his action sequences; it’s easy to flip through the pages as Dirk Pitt(R) and friends mow down yet another squad of baddies, but the quiet discussions in which historical secrets are revealed are worth a careful read.

True, internal consistency doesn’t match from one novel to another, the characters haven’t changed in decades (though some material late in this book may lead to romantic developments), the books keep expanding without good reasons besides repetitive action padding and the repetitive plotting is really starting to grate. But it’s all good fun: Atlantis Found even has this winking quality that also works on a second level for those jaded readers who know better.

It sure looks as if Cussler is having fun too. His cameo appearance in the novel is amusing, and from what we can read elsewhere on the web, he’s busy re-investing his royalties in classic cars and underwater archaeological expeditions. Goodness knows there are worse ways to be a best-selling author… even if the latest flood of “Clive Cussler collaborations” suggests that the need to mint royalty money may outweigh his respectability as a writer.

Um. Did I just associate “Clive Cussler” with “respectability as an author”? My mistake!

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