“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.

X

X

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

X

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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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Twelve miles to the south, a pair of opaline green eyes gazed – Wait.

“Opaline”? Dictionary… “Opalescent.” Hmm. Dictionary… “Having or emitting an iridescence like that of an opal.” Okay. Better just… Dictionary.

“Amorphous mineral, can be almost any colour, hydrated silica.” Oops – no, actually, I know what an opal is, I meant to look for something else… “Displaying a spectrum of colours that shimmer and change due to interference and scattering as the observer’s position changes.”

Right. So, this person here just has the dreamiest eyes… or one damn fancy set of contact lenses. Fine, whatever. Where were we? Let’s skip ahead to the genius bit.

He was a tall man, three inches more than six feet nicely put, and a lean 185 pounds. His every movement seemed consciously planned or “slow”. The black hair was wavy, almost shaggy, with a touch of grey beginning to show at the temples. The face was a face that knew the sea above and below to paraphrase Zapp Brannigan, it should “prepare to be sailed again and again. The tanned skin and the craggy features revealed a love of the outdoors. He was obviously someone who spent far more time under sun and sky than under the fluorescent lights of an office at least Cussler knows who he’s writing for. You worthless drones.

The early morning tropical air was warm and humid. He wore denim shorts under a colorfully flowered Hawaiian aloha shirt. His narrow feet that stepped straight as a spear were strapped into sandals and in frank disbelief I must respond, “You say WHAT now?”. It was the uniform of the day for Dirk Pitt®

And with that flawless introduction we are brought face to face with our hero, and do you see, do you recognise the depth of genius this novel represents? Because this is a Dirk Pitt® novel, get it? – and this degree of description, on past experience, can mean only one thing:

Dirk Pitt® is going to die.

I’m almost literally shitting myself with the thrills. It’s a master-stroke. I mean, I can’t believe Cussler’s really going to do it, just kill his hero like that, he’d be crazy – but there it is, undeniable, in black and white. I can barely bring myself to turn the page, and it must be for this reason.

Dirk Pitt® immediately gets to work demonstrating what a blisteringly masculine force he is by ordering the [rolls, rolls] Deep Encounter, an ocean survey ship he isn’t even the captain of, to charge full speed towards the blazing Emerald Dolphin. When the captain – name of Kermit Burch – does reach the bridge, he’s only too quick to back up the man of the hour to come.

See what a pissy, snivelling wretch First Officer Sheffield was by comparrison? Couldn’t even order a mayday without a captain on hand to tell him “okay”. I hope that fucker burns, just out of reach of a fire extinguisher and a glass of water.

Running at 120% speed, the Deep Encounterjesus … the Deep Encounter charges to the rescue, her noble crew hard at work preparing to take on two thousand passengers – not that they have any way of knowing how many passengers there are to be rescued, nor that the ship in question even has passengers, since no communications have been received from her. But neither they nor Clive Cussler let this stop them from getting ready to load up with enough people to literally sink their vessel, thus no doubt saving them straight to the bottom of the ocean. But at least they won’t burn.

Unlike the absolute festering sore that is First Officer Sheffield. The twat.

Being about as far from Fuck Officer Sheffield as it is possible to be without also being called Dirk Pitt®, Captain KERMIT is quick to call other nearby vessels for assistance, quickly contacting a British container ship called the [rolls] Earl of [rolls] Wattlesfield, and a blessedly unspecific Australian missile boat, but which I am going to refer to now as almost certainly entitled the good ship Dingo’s Kidneys. They both come a running too, but they won’t be there before the Deep Encounter is, oh no, because that wouldn’t be fair.

…nope, I can’t let it pass. The “Deep Encounter”. It’s pathetic, really. Over the rest of the chapter, in fact over the five chapters which cover the rescue to follow, the only word that occurs more frequently than Deep and Encounter seems to be “holocaust”, referring to the fire, and all I’m denying here is that perpetually hitting us with the same over emotive words and phrases is a good way to drive up tension. If there is even one genuinely deep encounter waiting over the horizon of this entire book, I’ll be astonished.

So, there’s a rescue to be achieved, eh? I wonder how that goes. I’m guessing it will be with detailed reference to the practices of Wikipedia, coupled with a hint of Dan Brown’s talent for the old Copy and Paste routine.

“Families with children first,” McFerrin shouted through his bullhorn to the crew. The old tradition of women and children first was now commonly ignored by modern seamen[citation needed] in favor of keeping families intact. After the sinking of the Titanic, when most of the men had gone down with the ship, leaving widows with fatherless small children, practical minds[citation needed] had felt that families should either live or die as one[citation needed as to how this differs from “women and children first”. Surely it just means “father’s next” – unless we are to believe that one baby-having family might be sacrificed undivided so that some rich fat turd sailing in Executive Class can escape along with his rich fat family. Actually, I can see that.]. With few exceptions[citation not forthcoming], the younger, single passengers and senior citizens stood back bravely and watched as crewmen lowered husbands, their wives and young children down to the Deep Encounter, where they found themselves safe on the work deck amid the submersibles, robotic underwater vehicles and hydrographic survey equipment. Next came the elderly who had to be forced to drop over the side[clarification needed], not because they were afraid but because they believed the younger people, with their lives ahead of them, should go first[citation needed of exactly how the practical minds justified disagreeing with THAT].

I’m not going to ruin the rescue any more, at least not any more than Cussler did pages ago when, if you recall, he told us outright that only “more than one hundred” lives would be lost out of “more than two thousand” passengers and crew. True to his word – although this will be seen in time to be an accolade Cussler is regularly unworthy of – Dirk Pitt® and his merry men do save the day, impossibly manage to fit almost EVERY LIVING PERSON onto their boat and just manage to avoid having a very deep encounter by throwing everything not nailed down overboard, until finally the Earl of Wattlesfield and the Dingo’s Kidneys arrive and relieve them of their tearful, grateful burden. Dirk Pitt® even manages to personally save one incredibly hot super-babe not once, but twice. Wanna know how? Do ya? Do ya? DO YA? Well tough shit, ‘cos I’m not telling!

Not until next time – hah!

I need to finish now. Want something to send you off with? Well, take this:

Pitt® and Burch, standing beside each other, stared up, startled to see the crew of the frigate turn out as if for a formal military review does this mean “in drag”?. Then suddenly, as the Deep Encounter entered the gap between the two ships, the silent tropical air was shattered by the whoops of the ships’ air horns and the cheers of the more than two thousand survivors really, that many who lined the rails of the containership and frigate. Pandemonium broke out across the water. Men, women and children all waved wildly and shouted words that went unheard in the din. Shredded newspaper and magazines were thrown in the air like confetti. Only at that moment did everyone on board the Deep Encounter fully realise what their magnificent exploit had achieved.

They had gone far beyond the rescue of sigh over two thousand people; they had proven that they were willing to sacrifice their own lives to save other humans hoo-manz. Tears flowed unashamedly from the eyes of everyone.

Long afterward, the men and women of the survey ship could never describe it accurately. They were too moved to fully absorb the event much like Cussler’s Kleenex as he typed with one hand, engorged on his hero fantasy. Even the tremendous rescue effort seemed like a nightmarish dream in a distant past. They might never forget it, but they could never do it justice with mere words.

Just like Cussler. You’ll be interested, I’m sure, if not actually shocked to know that there are no quotes on the back cover of this “best-selling” paperback from any writers praising it as a great work of literary art. Fortunately, in chapter three, one is provided for us and I will reproduce it here in full to completely set the record straight once and for all. What can one say about both the book and the burning vessel within?

“a grotesque monster beyond the imagining of the most demented horror writer.”

~ Clive Cussler, author of Atlantis Found

– 0 –

PS: we never learn what happens to Fucktard Orrificer Spleffield. At a certain point he just stops being referred to and that’s that. Personally, my disgust for him runs so deep that I hope he was cast overboard and violated to death by a narwhal. He was a “man” truly deserving of a deep encounter. With a narwhal. In his anus. A narwhal horn-thing going deep into his anus, encountering it that way. Have I spelt this out sufficiently now? Good.

I’m going to have to change my reviewing strategy, I now realise, because so far I’ve only made it through the first actual chapter of this damned book and this means two things: first, that at this rate the finished review could have a greater word count than its subject; and second, that I would most likely spend my remaining days smashing my remaining brains against the walls of my skull, it in turn against the walls of my cell, until any and all memories of the experience were gone and I was free to drool my last in relative peace.

It scares me to admit, but Valhalla Rising may actually be a worse book than The Da Vinci Code after all. I feel sick just considering it.

Chapter Two is, fortunately, pretty short and features only one crashing error of dramatic judgement, so let’s look at it quickly and move on. As First Officer Sheffield continues to waste time and endanger lives, and while braver and more manly crewmen battle the raging holocaust – first usage of the word – in a brave and, above all, manly fashion, Dr. Egan and his lovely assistant… daughter Kelly have to battle against the tide of panicking passengers to rescue his vital papers from burning.

In all honesty, I may have been too kind saying only one crashing error. When they get back to the deck, they find a crowd waiting for them.

Entire families were there: fathers, mothers and children, many still in their pajamas. A few of the children were whining in terror, while others enjoyed it as a big game until they saw the fear in their parents’ eyes. Women with dishevelled hair in bathrobes stood amid others who had refused to be rushed and had put on makeup, dressed stylishly and carried handbags. Men were in a variety of casual dress. Several wore sports coats over Bermuda shorts. Only one young couple had come prepared to jump. They were wearing their swimsuits. But the one thing they all had in common was a fear of death.

Having read on a little further than this, it’s become difficult for me to tell if this passage does full justice to Cussler’s latent sexism or not; maybe it’s too mild a case. But aside from the utterly trivial clothing detail, which only lacks the appropriate designer label information to put it up there with American Psycho (I half expected Dr. Egan to start fantasising about plunging his giant penis into everybody) this is probably not even the first of many references to femaleishness that does something of a disservice to the Suffragette movement. I notice that none of the men insisted on shaving before death, or putting on their very best tux at this crux moment in their lives – in Cussler’s world, real men don’t do this kind of thing. And in Cussler’s world there are only real men.

Apart from First Officer Sheffield.

A woman was moaning hysterically, Cussler spat in contempt

– shortly before she jumps the railing into the ocean and is swept away to her doom. Rightly. However, just as Kelly finishes staring over that railing herself, her father returns carrying his brown leather case – more on that later – and suggests that doing exactly the same may be their only option if they don’t want to be burned alive.

He looked solemnly into his daughter’s eyes. They sparkled like blue sapphires when the light hit them just right. Er, is this really the time for this? He could never help marvelling at how much she looked like her mother, Lana, at the same age. Their height and weight and body shapes were identical: both tall, finely contoured, with the near-perfect proportions of models. Dude. It’s your daughter. Kelly’s long, straight, maple-sugar brown hair framing a strong face with high cheekbones, sculptured lips and perfect nose were a mirror image, too. Right: too symmetrical. That’s always freaky. The only difference between mother and daughter was the suppleness of their arms and legs. Ohhhh, Gawd, yeah… Kelly was the more athletic, while her mother had been soft and graceful typing with one hand now. Both Kelly and her father – wait, whose head are we in here? – had been devastated when Lana had died after a long battle with breast cancer aw, the MOOD. Thanks a bunch, Cussler. Ruined. Now, as he stood there on the burning ship (he gave a cough, his leg fell off), his heart felt an indescribable heaviness at realising Kelly’s own life was in dire jeopardy of being cut short. Egan thrust his mighty organ into her again and again and imagined the roasting passengers orgying wildly around them. Everyone was admiring his platinum Rolex…

Enough. The chapter ends with Manly-Man McFerrin verbally bitch-slapping Fraidy-Man Sheffield until he finally stops the ship, so the breeze won’t fan the flames any further and people could jump off it without it still meaning certain death. McFerrin leaves us with a piece of chillingly terse, manly dialogue, one of only two ways in which the menly men of Cussler’s World seem capable of speaking.

It was then that I turned to Chapter Three and discovered that Clive Cussler is a genius.