Saturday, February 23, 2019

Book Review: Tom Clancy's SSN

This is a really bad book. Allow me to rephrase that: if you are looking for an exciting novel centered on  submarine warfare, you need to keep looking. SSN is not the answer to your search. As a novel, it’s really poor. The back cover blurb really, really oversells the book.

On the other hand, if you’re writing your own novel and doing research on late-Cold-War era submarine operations, capabilities, and tactics, it’s a useful book. Tip: buy the Kindle Edition so you can search for words. If there’s anything I expect from Clancy it’s accuracy, and SSN does not disappoint on that score. As a writer, I’m often wondering what would the conversation in the control room sound like when the captain is confronted with various tactical scenarios. I’ve saved multiple hours of research on questions like that with this book. But most readers are simply looking for a good novel. This isn’t it.

In fact, it really isn’t a novel at all. It amounts to the proper way to play out the fifteen scenarios in the video game by the same name. As fiction goes it is frankly boring. The good guys always win, the bad guys always make conveniently stupid decisions, there are almost never any hardware failures. The captain is a cardboard-cutout character and the rest of the crew do not even merit names. The submarine, the Cheyenne (SSN-773), a Los Angeles-class fast attack boat, has more kills than a machine-gunner taking down a feedlot of cows, and receives about the same amount of effective return fire that you would expect from a herd of trigger-happy bovines who don’t happen to possess any weapons.

Clancy is one of my favorite military adventure/action writers. Everything else I have read by him is edge-of-your-seat-miss-your-bedtime-can’t-tear-yourself-away good. But not only is SSN not his best outing, this book sinks at its moorings, never even pulling away from its berth. You want a good novel? Mothball this hulk and keep looking. Two stars.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Darke County Update #6

[Editor’s Note: Some portions of the following might be true, though the author claims plausible deniability.]

So here I was, sitting in my Dakota, waiting for the light at Aldi’s to turn green. That darn light changes with glacial speed. While waiting I was enjoying the latest round of global warming, shivering and watching my breath freeze to the inside of my windshield. Was wearing gloves so my fingers wouldn’t stick to the steering wheel. That stoplight is so slow I began to worry that my truck just might freeze itself solid to the pavement whilst waiting for the green. If that did happen and I wasn’t able to pull forward when the light turned, the people in the two-car rush-hour backup behind me would be pretty unhappy.

On the other hand, if I did get frozen to the pavement I’d only miss one turn of the light. The next time it turned green it would probably be sunny and 70. So I should be okay.

Speaking of the weather, the latest cold snap has got me thinking that global warming must really be true. Apparently the way it works is that all the regions of the world collect their coldest air and send it through some sort of polar vortex right into Darke County, Ohio. Meanwhile, everyone else gets all the warm air. If my understandin’ is correct, then it’s gettin’ warmer everywhere but Darke. So it truly is Global Warming, combined with a mite bit of Darke County Cooling. Aren’t we lucky.

Which reminds me of squirrels, although I’m not sure why it should.

I am engaged in a cold war with the squirrels. I suppose you could say it’s a “cold war” because of the Darke County Cooling we are experiencing. But truth be told, it’s a “cold war” because I haven’t started shootin’. Yet.

But I am seriously contemplating going nuclear. That would be twelve-gauge nuclear. Don’t tell the Sheriff I said that.

In any case, those darn squirrels have gotten into my birdseed again. I’ve got a cake feeder hanging from a pole with one of those allegedly squirrel-proof baffles around the middle of the pole. Supposed to keep the furry rodents from climbing up the pole and getting to the birdseed cake.

Have you ever tried to put one of those allegedly squirrel-proof baffles together? I don’t advise it. The consarned thing comes in two halves (otherwise you couldn’t thread it onto the pole). Each half possesses some sort of system of alternating plastic tabs that interlock just so with the other half. I am quite sure the patent on this impossible device was secured by the same guy who designed the Rubiks Cube. You need four hands all working in perfect coordination, while you are simultaneously eyeballing the contraption from above and below, so you can get all those interlocking tabs to interlock with the interlocking tabs on the other half. It’s just not going to happen. Not without a substantial loss of your sanctification, at any rate.

When you finally get the silly thing together for the second time (it takes twice, because the first time you forget to assemble it with the stupid pole on the inside) and you are lying prostrate on the frozen ground in contented exhaustion, you experience a momentary giddy feeling (probably best characterized as madness). This arises from the misplaced confidence you feel, to wit: if it took you, an intelligent human being, three hours to assemble this thing then the dumb squirrels will never figure out how to disassemble it. Victory at last! The war is won! The seedcakes are safe!

Until you watch those rascally creatures take that doggone thing apart in less than five minutes, grab the seedcake and run up a tree with it, chuckling all the while. That, my friends, is when I headed for the shotgun. Gonna turn this cold war hot.

And that’s the news from Greenville.