It’s becoming more than a little drag to open the covers of 7AW and read so much as a single page these days. Partly it’s because there are so many genuinely good things to read – I’ve just spent a small fortune on a set of actual classics, bound in Penguin-leather (or something) and designed by Bunbury. Or someone. To be honest I can’t remember his name and, as I don’t dare take them out of their wrappers in case some passing PETA shit-head throws pig blood over both me and them, I can’t read his name off the bookmark. Anyway, figuratively speaking they are bloody beautiful, or at least the photographs on the boxes are.

The other reason it’s a drag is, you know, just because of what it is. For example, with every page being annoying as all hell, you’re constantly on the look out for the end of the current chapter so you can at least feel like you’re tangibly closing in on the end; unfortunately every single page looks like the end of a chapter, since not a single one of them has text all the way down to the bottom. To test this theory I’ve been drawing a flip-art movie in one corner featuring a tiny despairing stickman throwing himself out of a sky-scraper and I’ve not had to skip a single floor. The detail is astonishing.

Eeeeeeyeah, where was I? West and his team think they know where the next piece of the jigsaw cliché is, so off they trot. In their jet black 747 with missile and gun turrets. They arrive on the Tunisian coast confidently expecting a not-previously rediscovered great wonder just hanging around waiting for them, but it’s not – so they have to look for an inlet near two rocky tridents emerging from the sea. Forgetting they are all inside a jet aircraft, Pooh Bear complains that it will take ages for them to search 100 miles of coastline by boat. At which prompting West, forgetting they are all in a jet aircraft, cunningly jumps out – “fortunately” while attached to a glorified hang-glider. So, presumably while the Jumbo Jet blasts past him at several times the speed, he spends a few hours scouting the cliff faces until he finds the tridents – but, mysteriously, not the inlet. Satisfied that this is close enough, they all land there.

But where is there? Or rather, where is the Lighthouse at Alexandria, since judging by the chapter heading that is their apparent objective? Well, apparently they aren’t looking for that at all, but instead are after “Hamilcar’s Refuge”, which they understand has a bit of the lighthouse in it. However that’s not to be seen either (Hamilcar was, we learned earlier, the father of Hannibal – the elephant one, not the Clarissssse one. Employing his deft touch with dialogue, Reilly had his hero utter a fresh contender for silliest line of dialogue ever: “I didn’t know he had a refuge, let alone a forgotten one“). The always ready Wizard whips out his (quiet at the back) sonic-resonance imager –

– erecting hush now the tripod on the sand. He then aimed it downward

– and that’s important to emphasise, Matt, isn’t it, because if the unseen object was above the ground, y’know, they’d all be able to see it. At first it shows what you’d expect, solid ground all the way down – but then Wizard aims it a few yards to the west and –

…actually, I need to interrupt.

Reilly named his protagonist “West”. You’d think he’d have the sense NOT to make every compass direction casually mentioned in the text be west as well. People keep looking westward, turning to face west, and so on. I’d change his fucking name. And start standing him south of people. Anyway, Wizard aims it a few yards to the west and –

Ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping-ping

The imager’s pinging went bananas.

West turned to Wizard, probably in revenge. “Explain?”

The old man looked at his display. It read:

TOTAL DEPTH: 8.0 m.
SUBSTANCE ANALYSIS: SILICON OVERLAY 5.5 m;
GRANITE UNDERLAY 2.5 m.

Get it? Get it?

“Oh, no way . . .” West said, understanding.

“Yes way . . .” Wizard said, also seeing it.

“Fuck no . . .” Cliff muttered, cringing at the dialogue.

The claim being made, and shortly being followed through on via a chapter-long trap-filled assault course race to the prize that rivals It’s A Knockout for sheer quality, is that an ancient Egyptian slave workforce built a granite roof over the top of a fifty metre wide ocean inlet with 130 metre deep cliff-walls, covered it with desert, bricked up the front and disguised it seamlessly with the rest of the coastline. That’s the claim.

MATHS TIME!

Judging by the reams of clip-art, the whole thing is at least 300 metres long – so this means a minimum 300 x 50 x 2.5 metres of granite (flat ceiling too, conveniently: “massive beams of granite–each the size of a California redwood–laid horizontally side-by-side across the width of the inlet”) which comes to… 37,500 cubic metres. Granite weighs, I understand, 2,691 kilograms per cubic metre, so… carry the two

ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND, NINE HUNDRED AND TWELVE METRIC TONS.

And a half.

Plus there’s that 5.5m layer of sand on top. Let’s say “dry sand” this being Tunisia; that means the granite is supporting an extra 132,165 tons as well as its own weight. Now, I’m sure that the Great Pyramid weighs more than that, but the Great Pyramid is all piled up in a big heap – not stretched like cling film over a toilet seat. Maybe I’m wrong and a passing architect can explain how granite is more than up to the task (and how these redwood-sized granite toothpicks were moved into place as well), but…

AND I’m generously overlooking the fact, in all the pictures, the inlet branches into a vast Y-shape at the back and just heads off the page, which implies that both branches also needed covering with a granite-and-sand lid until they close up naturally somewhere else – otherwise you could just walk half a mile down the way, straight past all those lovely traps, and drop in on the goodies without all the hassle.

Not to mention that a few millennia of sea-action has apparently failed to erode the sandstone cover of the 4m thick fake wall on the front, which might make it a little easier to spot. “Not Well Thought Out”, is what I’m getting at.

Sigh.

Look, as usual I’m running off at the mouth, and badly. All that covers only the first 18 pages of a chapter that totals 95. Yet, if this was the Indiana Jones movie Reilly wishes it was, it couldn’t warrant more than fifteen minutes of screen time, twenty at most. Even s t r e t c h i n g Xh i s Xt e x t Xo u t Xa s Xm u c h Xa s XR e i l l y Xa l w a y s Xd o e s , how can he manage to make so little go so far? He should advertise Fairy Liquid. So in those 95 pages, what do they do? Find the inlet, get chased in by the Evil Americans, run through a handful of traps, discover not just one but two Pieces of Capstone, lose them, then just manage to escape without getting shot to pieces by…

THE VILLAIN

…and I think the phrase is “sheesh”.

At their head stood a man of about 50, with steely back eyes and, gruesomely, no nose. It had been cut off sometime in the distant past, leaving this fellow with a grotesque misshapen stump where his nose should have been. He should check himself in for a boob job. Plastic surgery isn’t that expensive these days, and it would do wonders for his self-esteem.

Yet even with this glaring facial disfigurement, it was the man’s clothing that was his most striking feature right now. This seems rather unlikely.

He wore steel-soled boots just like West did.

He wore a canvas jacket just like West did.

He wore a belt equipped with pony bottles, pitons and X-bars, just like West did.

He came with Action Grip and Eagle-Eye features, just like West did. And if you bought them both at the same time, you got West’s Super Action Trike for free and a discount coupon for Skeletor’s Cave Mountain playhouse. COLLECT THEM ALL ! ! !

Yes, I know. I’m being very subtle with this.

The only difference was his helmet–he wore a lightweight caver’s helmet, as opposed to West’s fireman’s helmet. #Huh, let’s-go-and-stay-at-the —

A few pages on, this brilliantly brought-to-life character says “West, West, West … You always were good. Perhaps the best pupil I ever had.” I suspect that sooner or later he will suggest they kill the Emperor and rule the universe together as father and son. Then West will get his nose cut off, have it replaced with a robot one, and in the third film will save the day with a band of midget chimps, and conveniently overlook the filthy, satisfying but unwittingly incestuous off-screen sex he’s been having with his sister for years and years. Nope. They will never mention that.

Want to guess what this guy’s fucking stupid name is?

He was Colonel Marshall Judah.

Christening your offspring with a rank has always been a bad choice – but with two?

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The images of West’s dreams:

West running desperately down an ancient stone passageway with Wizard at his side, towards the sounds of booming drums, chanting and a woman’s terrified screams.

It’s hot.

Hot as Hell.

And since it’s inside a volcano, it even looks like Hell.

Now. One of the following three versions is correctly emphasised – can you tell which?

“It even looks like Hell.” x “It even looks like Hell.” x “It even looks like Hell.”

Hope you enjoyed the little quiz. No answer sheets, but there’s a pretty good chance that you just scored better than Matthew Reilly would have, since – and you can confirm for yourself by reading his last sentence aloud – he has no idea of how the English language works. You may think it a little unfair of me to pull him up for using italics like this; after all I fairly pepper my commentaries with them. I suspect Matt and I both do it for the same reason: to make written English look a bit like how spoken English sounds. The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds.

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Methodological

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Uninformed

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Contradictory

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Clarification

The problem is, Matt apparently doesn’t know how spoken English sounds. Exasperation

The problem is, there are very approximately a Marillion ways of emphasising spoken English and yet this professional novelist consistently manages to find ones that don’t work. There is a strong lobby group which would argue that the casual use of italics is bad form in literature generally, even in actual dialogue and certainly not polluting the narrative text itself – but I’m going to cry nay to their ayes. I say if it makes you happy, then do it – AS LONG AS YOU DO IT PROPERLY. If you can’t do it properly, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Now there’s a thought. Matthew Reilly could save a lot of trees following that philosophy.

Okay. Enough with the italics.

Boom go the drums. I meant “enough from me“. And clearly, I was lying about that too.

The evil chanting is close now.

The woman’s frenzied screams are like nothing he has ever heard: pained, desperate, primal. Rockin’…

West shoots a look to Wizard. Oh, please. If you can’t distinguish between prepositions in your first tongue, you are NOT allowed to be a writer. Your are out of the club. Go on, fuck off.

The older man waves him on. “Go! Jack! Go! Get to her! I’ll catch up! And I’d like to thank the academy – and Ed Wood Jnr. – for this Best Supporting Diction award…

West jumps feet-first into the pipe-shaft and slides fast.

Five traps later, he emerges from the bottom of the long stone pipe on . . .

. . . a balcony of some kind. Shouldn’t that pause been during the slide and not after it?

A balcony which overlooks a large ceremonial cavern. He peers out from the balcony’s railing and beholds the horrifying sight. Is it this action sequence?

“Five traps later”? It says a lot when a self-proclaimed king of booby-trap porn, at the start of only the second chapter of his trap-festooned flagship work, so loses interest in his core subject that he can barely even be bothered to mention them in passing – and I’m going to generously overlook the phrase “pipe-shaft” as much as possible. As for the formatting, have a look at this:

Boom go the drums. The evil chanting is close now. The woman’s frenzied screams are like nothing he has ever heard: pained, desperate, primal. West shoots a look to Wizard. The older man waves him on.

“Go! Jack! Go! Get to her! I’ll catch up!” Well, there’s no saving this bit.

West jumps feet-first into the pipe-shaft and slides fast. Five traps later, he emerges from the bottom of the long stone pipe on . . . a balcony of some kind. A balcony which overlooks a large ceremonial cavern. He peers out from the balcony’s railing and beholds the horrifying sight.

Now that actually looks like it might be the content of a novel. It only takes a moment’s work to turn an obvious padding exercise into proper-looking text. What could Reilly be trying to achieve, if not the obvious book stretching alluded to earlier?

Sod it. This is a short chapter, so let’s get it behind us. West witnesses a cluster of hooded priests of the ancient Egyptian variety, a platoon of French paratroopers, and the evil Juventus – excuse me, Jesuit priest del Piero stand around waiting to steal something from the still screaming and heavily pregnant woman lying utterly helpless on an alter. West heroically does nothing as, in a prophetic shaft of sunlight from above, she gives birth to a bouncing baby boy and promptly drops dead. del Piero and his cronies (definitely the word to use) march out in victory, triggering a lowering ceiling and fountains of molten lava from the pipes marked in the clip-art – oops, fuck, sorry, now I’ll have to use the tag – at the start of the chapter, just as Wizard arrives OF West’s side.

After claiming he could do nothing, West announces he’s not going to abandon Malena to be crushed (proving in the process that he knew this woman and, in my opinion, is by his inaction massively complicit in her death) so he swings down to her side. He goes into an apparent trance, rests a hand on her belly for some reason and feels the kick of… another baby! Quelle surprise. He calls “Max” to join him and – well, read it for yourself.

A gruesome yet urgent image: flanked by the encroaching lava and the steadily lowering ceiling, the two men perform a Caesarean delivery on the dead woman’s body using West’s Leatherman knife.

Well shit, I guess I’ll be throwing away my Leatherman in the morning. I’m just holding out hope that before I pass the halfway mark here West will be using Swarfega as a sexual lubricant, preferably with Wizard pitching. My DIY hobby will take a rough hit, but hell, so will West.

With a little girl in hand – and note I say hand, singular – West and Max have to flee, but there is lava everywhere and no way to stop it; or so it seems, but West’s eagle-eyes spot an off switch, hidden in a dark hole, behind a lava fall – suggesting perhaps that, for Reilly at least, there is no difference in opacity between molten rock and weak Ribena. With dazzling bravery – and Wizard’s promise that he’ll build him a robot arm that will be even better than the real one he’s about to lose – they run across a pool of lava, hang about while West pokes his unprotected arm through super-heated liquid rock and somehow turns an ancient stone switch (without snapping what’s left of his arm off until after the traps are disconnected), then run through the exit to freedom. Leaving, by the way, Malena’s body on the alter. A man of his word, is West. If his word is… er, thingie… what was it now? You know… starts with an f… damn, it was on the tip of my… whotsit…

Well, whatever. After bandaging West’s stump, Wizard contemplates the baby girl that I certainly wasn’t expecting him to find, awe-fully declaiming that “twin oracles” are “unprecedented” and that it is important that “del Piero doesn’t know” about what happened. Then he tells West that they must call the member states (of what, he doesn’t mention) and prepare for “perhaps the most important meeting of the modern age”.

A Meeting. Ooooh. I’ll take suggestions for what the previous top five vital meetings before this one were from any interested participants, and I’ll also leave you with this question to ponder:

If (in this dream that West has been having) the date reilly is 1996, and if that means this oracular baby girl reilly is Lily, and if Lily reilly was the one who gave everyone moronic novelty call-signs… then how-the-fuck-come Wizard is already called Wizard?

How do you like those italics?

Jack West. Six consonants, two vowels. It’s the kind of name Clive Cussler would slap manfully on the ass, maybe before allowing his palm to rest and cup just a little too long before breaking contact – but enough of that old sailor! Jack West is a creation of Matthew Reilly, and he’s so pathetically keen to tell us all about him he blurts out all the good stuff straight away. Onto our blouse, if you like.

For example: Jack West is the fourth best soldier in the world – they had a vote, it looks like, and he almost won, so there. And he’s got a pet falcon called Horus.  He’s got two arms – and one of them is made of a robot! He’s way more interesting than any other fast-paced hero I’ve ever read about, no question. And he’s got two call signs, although that’s hardly an unique quality. The first was Huntsman and the new one is Woodsman, which is a pity, because it’s the only replacement call sign forced onto his team that is not cripplingly shameful and no-one remembers to use it after page 8. As for the person responsible for all that, allow me to introduce Lily. She’s, ah, well, er, she’s a, hum, er, she’s a ten-year old, uh, girl. Wow, barely an hour since I finished the first chapter and that’s all I can remember about her.

I’m going to have real difficulties with this book. For a start, if my use of blog tags was to fairly represent the frequency of limp-wristed characterisation and crappy images on display, the words gey and clip-art would stand eight storeys high while all the others lie squashed down to the size of your average sex phone line legal disclaimer (oh, and anyone who thinks about suggesting that the words one, hit and wonder describe my blog more accurately than they do Matthew Reilly’s career – I know it, and I got in there before you did, so kiss it).

Seriously, is this a novel or a copy of Computer Aided Design For Dummies? Aside from a handful of photographs so poorly rendered they could be depicting someone’s missing pets, the pictures look like MS Paint doodles at best. Worse still, so far as I can tell every single significant one (and there are plenty that don’t even achieve that status) appears directly before and completely reveals any potential surprises lying in wait in the text. Imagine you were going to write a scene in which your heroes enter an unknown room filled with traps; you might wish your readership to feel trepidation too; you might try to be a writer, and describe this exciting environment using words; and, if so, you might think a drawing of the room with prominent labels reading “direction of travel” and “spike-holes” could, possibly, reduce the impact a touch. Yep, not only are the pictures all really amateurish looking, they make the text of the book utterly redunde-

Hmm.

On reflection I’m feeling a bit more affectionate towards the pictures. However, to salvage what I can of my tag balance I’m going to tally up the number of clip-art spoilers and not bother mentioning the subject ever again (in your dreams)… talk amongst yourselves… well, yourself

Fifty.

That’s not including the repeating chapter icon, or the little bondage hieroglyph that pops up every now and then, so it could be over sixty easily. Some of the others are repeats too, occasionally with minor changes, but really – reilly – is this necessary? The thing’s practically a comic strip.

Many of these pictures take up entire pages. I think there’s a reason for this. I think it’s

the same reason why the entire text of the novel is about this fucking big on the page.

The same reason why, for maximum impact, some words get a whole line practically to themselves.

Themselves.

For impact.

With Italics.

Yeah, there’s quite a lot of italics too, but that’s another issue which I promise I’ll get to. As well as the massive, creatively formatted text and frequent pictorial interruptions, there is also the dazzling expanse of empty paper leading into every new subsection and, even more emptily, often ending them too. Time for some vital mathematics: the “story” part of this hardback novel incorporates 462 pages, and by an incredible coincidence I’ve just calculated that only 46.2% of them have any writing on.

Yes. Now it becomes clear. The novel Seven Ancient Wonders is in fact only comprised of Seven Actual Paragraphs, drawn out to extraordinary lengths in a cunning and, apparently, successful attempt to fool a publishing house that they’re actually holding more than the synopsis for a novel which Reilly has no intention of really writing.

Reilly writing.

Sorry, got distracted there for a second. Anyway, having finished chapter one, I can safely reveal a few things. It details the fast-paced assault on an ancient Egyptian tomb-like structure in the Sudan containing a lost body part of an ancient wonder, upon which resides one of seven golden parts of another ancient wonder, the collection of said parts being desired by West’s team, referred to as the Nine (until someone gets left behind, at which point they become the Eight for a bit), but also two evil groups: first, a shoot-first, blow-things-up-laughing-later evil American military force; and second, a pan-European evil military force, lead by an evil Jesuit priest named after an Italian footballer and his diminutive protégé, a seemingly evil ten-year old boy who is “exactly Lily’s age”, as Reilly and West tell us, preferring to just pour transparent piss over a potential plot point on its first appearance rather than letting us… wonder.

None of this matters, though. The heroes break in, get the treasure and a clue, escape from under the Evil Europeans’ noses, then are captured by the Evil Americans and have to surrender the treasure to them – quite like what happens in the first bit of Raiders of the Lost Arc, actually. Clearly this is a family adventure more or less suitable for all the family, with just a tiny bit of inappropriate family swearing and one of the family of heroes having his head blown apart by snipers… oh.

Funny that, because the reading level is probably suitable for my nephew and he hasn’t even been conceived yet. Not just the reading level either, because in order for the team to escape the evil clutches of one of West’s arch-nememises (the story has hardly started and he’s already got at least three, don’t be surprised if there’s an arch-Rameses before too long) their getaway Boeing 747 with mounted machine-gun turrets pulls an amazingly infantile-reality-satisfying rescue and spirits them all away just in the nick of time.

Now they are all safe, and can plan their next move. Lily has a jolly good cry over the untimely head-exploding of Noddy (whoever he reilly was) while West gets his head down for some kip – and dreams of lava… and booby-traps… and stone altars…

…in the present indicative…

Fucking clip-art Jesus pantihose. I thought this nightmare was in my past, but no. I’m not going to lie to you: this thing is clearly going to be total shit from start to finish – but it is a different quality of shit and that’s what will make reading it a little special.

Let’s get scientific about this.

First, you’ve got your Dan Brown Shit. It’s slick, efficient, you don’t have to strain at all and it passes so smoothly that you only have to wipe as a matter of routine, knowing even as you do that one sheet of paper will be enough to put your mind at ease. Many people apparently found The Da Vinci Code “incredibly satisfying”, words which, it should always be remembered, consistently represent the reported enjoyment of taking a big dump – in this case a hip-shatteringly massive one, but nothing more.

Then, by contrast, there’s your Clive Cussler Shit. Which is nutty.

Now, however, we have Matthew Reilly Shit – and this is the fun shit, you get me, this is the crazy amatuer shit, you know, this is the spread-it-on-the-walls, pick-it-up-and-throw-it-through-the-bars type shit. It’s shit, but it’s fun!

Fun, that is, for the monkey throwing it. For the monkey reading it, in this case me, the fun stopped somewhere around, oh, page 8, when I discovered what the call signs of the heroes were.

Actually, call signs generally are a bit, y’know, gay these days, aren’t they? I mean, on the one hand you have gamer-tags and internet nicknames and that’s all fine, and on the other hand you have… Top Gun. And Gladiators. Lots of gleaming six-packs, and nipple-pecs, and people calling themselves Ice Man and Maverick and… er… Lightning and Filly, or whatever.

So here we have a heroic combat team who, without blushing, DON’T run into battle calling themselves Huntsman, Witch Doctor, Archer, Bloody Mary, Saladin, Matador and Gunman – because that would be gay.

No. They VOLUNTARILY call themselves Woodsman, Fuzzy, Stretch, Princess Zoe, Pooh Bear, Noddy and Big Ears. During life-and-death struggles they do this. Because their ten-year old girl team-member says these are their new call signs.

This is all so amazingly faggotty that it goes beyond conventional sexualised insults and enters brave new territories of gayness desirous of their own label, and it has fallen upon me to chose one:

This, is gey.

And before you make any assumptions about Princess Zoe – no, that’s not the girl. She doesn’t give herself a call sign. She gives one to the other civilian, an old man with a long beard (Wizard, as if you couldn’t guess), but she doesn’t give a call sign to herself – so even if she wasn’t tagging along with an elite combat team running through a Sudanese swamp, she’d still be the least convincing ten-year old in literary history.

So, not fun anymore by only page 8. But on page 9, whoo, at least it gets funny

The chief resident of the swamp was Crocodylus niloticus, the notorious Nile crocodile. Reaching sizes of up to 6 metres, the Nile crocodile is known for its great size, its brazen cunning, and its ferocity of attack.

Are you ready?

It is the most man-eating crocodilian in the world

Aaaaaaah, pissed myself.

I’ve just got back from my holidays and I need a break. I just can’t face Cussler right now, and in any case I’ve been approaching the problem of him all wrong – the way I’m going I’ll have a text headed Valhalla Rising long enough to publish (from my padded cell), and that’s two things I don’t want to have in common with Clive for a start. So instead, I’m going to toss Dirk Pitt® in the direction of the bonfire for a while and go back to basics: just a nice, easy reading diary of some spectacular piece of crap.

So, what is it that I hold in my hand?

FROM THE WORLD’S FASTEST-PACED WRITER COMES THE GREATEST ADVENTURE OF ALL

MATTHEW REILLY

An Indiana Jones clone goes fantasy spelunking for giant hieroglyphics  (with his pet kestrel)

SEVEN
ANCIENT
WONDERS

Ahhhh – I feel refreshed already! In all honesty, this cover image is pretty restrained as these things go (if slightly out of focus, like a disaster recorded by a bystander’s camera-phone). Warning signs, though: what exactly does “the world’s fastest-paced writer” mean? The author is all nippy, but his book is steady and restrained? I’m guessing not. As for “the greatest adventure of all” – well, the bigger they come…

What else can we say about this little doorstop? Well, the top quote on the back cover (“Breathless Action . . . Explosive stuff”) is credited simply to MIRROR, which rather makes me wonder if it was dictated by the author into one. The next, attributed to GUARDIAN, means I may be picking on an orphan – though judging by the glowing comments, at least he’s a well-loved one. Alarm bells now: “Reilly’s talent for coming up with ingenious new twists on every page is awesome. So are his characters” claims this proud parent-figure. Ingenious new twists on every page? And is it ingenious new characters on every page too? I wonder what this creative gargantuan looks like.

OH MY GOD HE’S HARRY POTTER.

That was quite a scare, and unfortunately makes it very clear that, in fact, I’m picking on an unloved orphan after all. What a total prick I am. However I’m a prick who learns from his mistakes, so I’m not going to waste time checking the page total and counting the chapters, I’m just going to dive straight in.

…oh, fuck no.

Clip-art.

Take me now, lord, take me now.

Ah – not a prologue! We’re into the novel! Great!

PART ONE

Inferno

Clip art. Damn it.

OKAY. Imagine, if you will, a small toy boat, floating in your bathtub, with a rather ostentations circular dinner plate balanced on top of it, overhanging the comparatively tiny hull on all sides in what, this humble not-an-engineer would assume, is not a particularly stable way for a luxury cruise ship to attempt. And then, on top of the plate, five progressively smaller plates. Okay, you’re there.

There’s a plan view too, just to underline the concentric nature of this ocean-going marvel. It’s called “Emerald Dolphin”. Presumably the christening ceremony involved not just a champagne bottle but the use of a twelve-sided die and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Your Majesty?

“I dub you the good ship…” [rolls] “…Emerald…” [rolls again]

Moving on. We are now halfway though 2003, not to mention the South Pacific Ocean, and following the news in sentence one that the ship is utterly doomed we are treated to several pages of clunking description detailing just what a damn impressive ship she is and no mistake.

The luxurious cruise ship Emerald Dolphin was on fire and no-one on board had an omen, a premonition, not even the slightest trace of suspicion of the danger. Yet flames were slowly devouring the interior of the ship’s wedding chapel, located amidships just forward of the sumptuous shopping village.

That’s not line one there either. Already the trend towards the needlessly repetitive is firmly entrenched, alongside the laboriously over-detailed. The second paragraph cuts quickly to the point, that the ship’s emergency systems have failed and none of the crew are aware of it – good good – but the pages following read like they were pasted straight from the celebratory brochure, listing dining rooms, bars and lounge areas, ballrooms, nightclubs, a casino and a (thousands of miles off) Broadway theatre, plus that “two-city-block long” shopping avenue. And –

The sports deck featured a short four-hole golf course read “all par 2”, Olympic-sized half swimming pool, quarter basketball court and a huge workout gym treadmill.

Actually, a treadmill is probably the only thing they don’t have in there, since –

Except for the outside promenade decks, there was little demand for walking. Escalators, moving ramps and walkways spread throughout the interior of the ship. Glass-enclosed elevators were spaced throughout the decks within a short stroll.

And old people. I bet there’s lots of old people.

Not to mention seventy-eight million dollars of fine artworks by Jackson Pollack, name check, name check and name check, plus bronze sculptures by name check…

The marine architects of the Emerald Dolphin had gone over the top creating ultramodern glitz … Glass in wildly different colours abounded throughout the ship. Chrome, brass and copper swirled on the walls and ceilings. All the furniture was created by contemporary artists and celebrity interior designers. Unique lighting created a heavenly atmosphere, or at least the designer’s comprehension of heaven as described by those who’d died, gone there and were then revived.

So, a heavy emphasis on tunnels of light and, coincidentally, dead relatives it would seem. Now imagine all that pitching in the ocean swell for hours on end, if you will. Urp. Could I interest you in a raw egg, sir? Arp. Clean up on Moving Ramp Twelve, please, Moving Ramp Twelve.

What about the passengers, though? All this luxury, but I bet the rooms are poky little things, miserable cells with narry a porthole…

The staterooms were circular, with no sharp corners well, duh. They were all spacious and exactly alike – there were no small inside staterooms or penthouse suites on the Emerald Dolphin. The designers did not believe in class distinction.

Sounds like it. No doubt they’ve learned all the lessons that Titanic had to offer.

The furniture and decor looked like something out of a science-fiction movie. The beds were raised, with extremely soft mattresses, beamed with soft overhead lights. For those on a first or second honeymoon, mirrors were mounted inconspicuously in the ceiling and for those not, tough. Fake it. The bathrooms had built-in chambers that dispersed mist, spray, rain or steam amid a jungle of flowering tropical plants that looked as though they’d been grown on an alien planet. Sailing on the Emerald Dolphin was an experience unique among cruise ships. The designers did not believe in class distinction.

The ship designers also understood where their future passengers would be coming from, and fashioned the ship in the image of the affluent young. The designers did not believe in class distinction. Many were well off doctors, attorneys and entrepreneurs of small and large businesses. Most brought their families. The designers did not believe in class distinction. The single passengers were in the minority. There was a fair-sized group of senior citizens who looked like they could well afford the finest money could buy. The designers did not believe in age distinction, as long as you had class. Or, at least, Money. And I told you there would be…

And yet this tasteful and understated gem (and presumably all the salt-of-the-earth types aboard her) is fated to die. Farewell, Emerald Dolphin. Apart from in all these vital specifics, we hardly knew ye. Fortunately, there’s still her sister ships though. The… [rolls]

Gypsum Porpoise. [rolls again]

And the Amethyst Manatee.

So, I turn the title page and discover that Cussler is enormously grateful to, amongst others, his local fire department. As I move on to the prologue I wonder, will I too feel gratitude or, at every new page, wish only that they had allowed the flames to lick ever higher?

Into Oblivion

AND, there it is, filling page 2: the clip art. I’ve read artfully illustrated novels before, of course; a talented individual, enriching one’s reading experience with occasional, lovingly worked panels.

Delightful.

This, is, less delightful. It looks like it was done on an Apple Mac CAD program circa 1983. Above the banner reading “Vikings in the Fjord”, three long ships approach through open sea beside a single cliff wall, rather misrepresenting the concept of fjord as I had previously envisioned it, beneath a sky fluffed with three cotton bud clouds, all rendered in lavish greys.

Why is it there? Who can say. Perhaps a reason will become clear.

Anyway, here begins the text, setting the scene Somewhere in North America in June 1035, as said long ships are about to discover a charming natural grotto and establish a Viking settlement. This won’t actually happen quite yet, however; first Cussler has to get some research out of the way, history, geography, geology… who knew secondary school would prove so useful?

Eventually a very well described Bjarne Sigvatson (in the sense of excessive detail) and his hearty immigrant followers make landfall within a cave, oddly cueing an extended description of their culture’s naval techniques and ship-building practices, before he gets down to the real hard work of building traditional Norwegian-style long-houses, trading with the natives and sending his brother Magnus off with one hundred men to explore their new home. Cussler could have saved on paper if he went on to say they found wild dogs, buffalo and lots of Skraelings – or what British colonials would have called “bloody natives” – but continuing what looks set to become a real taste for linguistic redundancy it takes him a lot longer to get these rovers back to base, only for them to discover their homes burned and their people slain. Including Bjarne, which was a real blow considering how much I’d got to know him over the… preceding four pages.

Firing up a good old Viking rage, Magnus and his boys bury Bjarne where his ship lies, collapsing the cave-mouth but leaving an underwater passage, we learn, then they race off to slaughter a thousand native American men, women and children before being overwhelmed by greater numbers and killed. Apparently, Magnus “was what the Vikings called a beserkr, a word that would pass down the centuries as berserk”. And, apparently, stjornbordi came to be the word starboard. Although in fairness, that bit was mentioned a little earlier. In a fractionally more relevant place.

Our scene is set. Let us move on from here and discover its relevance, after the words…

Monster from the Deep

Oh. It’s another prologue.

Fuck. Plus more clip art. This one, and I’m not going to shy from spoiling the big surprise either, reads “Mystery Submarine”, beneath a picture of… actually, it looks a bit like a big metal penguin with a novelty toffee on it’s back. There are lots of little Jesus-fishes in the background. Happy?

Now, we are generously introduced to the wooden-hulled warship Kearsarge and Captain Leigh Hunt, sailing the Caribbean in 1894, shortly before they spot a “strange species of sea monster” lurking low in the waves, to which all concerned are repeatedly and vocally doubtful that it could possibly be a man-made vessel. They shoot at it (Americans), scaring it underwater, then hang around all day in case it comes back, and when it does it charges them.

Their shells bounce off it and, just before it scoots under their hull and cracks it like a nutshell, Cap’n Hunt makes eye contact with the melancholy bearded man within (within the submarine, I mean, not himself). Sinking fast, Kearsarge is guided to a nearby reef and grounded, saving all on board. When they are found and returned to America, the Navy mysteriously fail to court-marshal him, mysteriously wanting to sweep the incident under the rug, and mysteriously give him a promotion before his retirement… hmm. And the wreck, burned by natives (another theme, I think) from the nearby islands, is left to “disintegrate in a coral tomb”.

Well. So far, so soft-core disaster porno. I wonder what the next prologue will reveal…