“Pitt® and Giordino track the Deep Encounter to the island base it’s been hidden on, kill the pirates with only a knife and a rocket-launcher, then rescue the ship and her crew.”

Got that? Good – because I’ve got bigger fish to fry right now than the plot. Like…

HOW MARY SUE CUSSLER HERE WOUND UP STARRING IN HER OWN NOVEL, HOW ABOUT THAT? Excuse me. Do you know what a “Mary Sue” is? asks the critic, more sweetly. There must be some way I can explain this process of evolution to you. Ah! Here, from the fourth of my Don Brawn novels…

Don Brawn sat at his computer keyboard, typing a review of a book he didn’t like .

~ from The Book that Wasn’t Written, a Don Brawn thriller, by Cliff Knoetz

Of course, I jest – there will only be three Don Brawn novels for a start, and in none of them will Don be reviewing books. I simply want to demonstrate how a less able writer than myself might use his main character as what is known as an author surrogate which, as Wikipedia conveniently defines, is when a story includes “a character who expresses the ideas, questions, personality and morality of the author”. Of course, sometimes things go further than this and enter dark and painfully embarrassing areas of non-subtlety that cause other human beings to not look you in the eye at parties.

Don was strong, handsome and “good in bed” according to what ladies say or at least think. Every word he wrote made clear the failings of the author – the author of the book he was reviewing – and, when he sent it to him, Don knew that the author would take all his advice, re-write his book accordingly and thank Don personally on the dedication page. Don Brawn was the best.

~ The Book that Wasn’t Written, a title that’s growing on me, by Cliff Knoetz

The next degree of creative failure that can occur is exemplified here, in which this falsified version of my character, Don Brawn, moments previously (but in a not true manner) presented as a surrogate for myself, Cliff Knoetz, is further shown to be potentially unrealistically perfect in various ways. This is known as a Mary Sue-ism, a term coined after Paula Smith’s landmark short story, A Trekkie’s Tale (published Menagerie #2, 1973) – a biting piece of social criticism attacking the adolescent wish-fulfilment fantasies prevalent in popular Star Trek fan fiction of the time.

Fortunately, this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. Now writers of fan fiction generally just expand the range of subject matter to include lesbian encounters between principle vampire-killing cast members and leave themselves out of it. No-one in these self-aware times would – well, okay. I mean, clearly Dirk Pitt® is a bit of a Mary Sue, yes. That’s all I’m trying to say. Anyway, how could you top that?

Don realised that there was a word he needed which would make this the best passage of text, the most perfect work of literary analysis, in the entire history of the written word – but in that moment, for the only time in his entire life, he couldn’t remember what it was!

Oh no, thought Don. Without this word my existence as a critic is doomed!

Just then there was a knock on the door. Who could that be? asked Don to himself, getting up. As he opened the door he couldn’t believe his eyes!

“Hi,” said the handsome, slightly less handsome than Don but only because he was older, man stood attractively on the doorstep. “I’m Cliff Knoetz.”

“Noted-social-radical-and-literary-critic Cliff Knoetz?” gasped Don gratefully.

“The very same!” laughed the man, with a glint in his heart-stoppingly hazel-green eye. “And the word you’re looking for, is PATHETIC.”

IT’S PATHETIC. PAAAAAAAAAAATHETIC.

PAAAAAAAAAATHEEEEEEETIIIIIIIIC.

Right, THAT’S what I was trying to say. Clive Cussler isn’t content with his hero being, so obviously, a MASSIVE fantasy of himself, looked up to by men, lusted after by women, modest and perfect and everything else. NO. That’s not enough for Clive. Clive has to write his hero-persona into an inescapable trap, and then write in HIMSELF, his actual self, HIM, HE, CLIVE CUSSLER, HE has to be the one who turns up in the nick of time to save himself. HIMSELF. HIIIIIIIIMMMMMSSSSSSEEEEEEELLLLLFFFFFFFFffffffffffffph.

Are you hearing me? I’ve got one word for you, Clive. Listen closely…

Onanism.

Did you catch that?

Actually, this kind of thing does go on (admittedly it’s usually for comic or satiric effect and not as some kind of smug gratuity) so there’s another phrase for this auto-inclusion of an author into his own story, a less pejorative one, well, sort of. It’s self-insertion.

In a way it’s kind of the opposite too, since onanism is more about self-extrusion.

In any case, if you want my opinion Clive’s just been caught red-handed at both. More or less. And I, for one, really wish I hadn’t walked in on him doing it.

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Right, that’s it. You can go. I’m finished.

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Shit, yeah. I totally forgot. When Pitt* was all but single-handedly saving everybody, a detail I’m sure he’ll be quick to deny should anyone try to reward him for it, he finds the logo CERBERUS poorly hidden on the enemy ship. I wonder if it’s important. And that brings up the end of Part One. You know what that means…

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