Next up: “The Hunt for Red October” by Tom Clancy.
I read this because of the movie, to be honest. The book has a lot more in it than the movie, as usual, since they had to pare down a lot of it to fit into about 2 hours. The movie’s generally faithful to the book, and since I liked the movie, I thought the book was a fun read.
It is the Cold War, with tensions rising between the US and the USSR. Each nation is constantly building up their armies with newer, better weapons. Enter into this Marko Ramius, a Lithuanian submarine commander who is given command of a new experimental nuclear submarine that possesses what is called a ‘caterpillar drive’. With the caterpillar drive running, the sub is near-silent and the only way to detect it is to ping sonar off its hull– in contrast to other submarines whose propulsion systems are audible themselves. It is a stealth ship, capable of sneaking right up to the coast of America with enough nukes to destroy the entire world.
But what the Soviet government doesn’t know is that Ramius has been disillusioned with them for a while– ever since his wife died after a series of failings of the system, and the incompetent doctor who killed her escaped without punishment because of connections to the Politburo. And Ramius intends to take the Red October and defect to the US. He hand-picks the officers for the assignment based on their own willingness to defect.
As he fakes a training exercise (so his noncommissioned crewmembers don’t mutiny) and goes into stealth mode, both the US and the Soviet government freak out. The US thinks he has gone rogue, and intends to attack. The Soviets encourage this belief, though they know from one last letter from Ramius what he truly intends. Both navies scramble to find the Red October.
One man, an analyst named Jack Ryan, thinks he knows what is really going on. In the first panicked meeting of naval intelligence, he describes what he knows of Ramius and that he believes the Soviet commander intends to defect. He is reluctantly given the chance to prove it, to make contact with Ramius. In an exciting game of cat-and-mouse Ramius and Ryan try to save the Red October from the Soviets’ attempts to sink her, to prove to the Americans it is no threat, and to keep Ramius’s crew from mutiny.
It’s an exciting book. Action, with a dash of spy-ish intrigue. There is a reason that a lot of media is set during the Cold War– it is a tense and gripping era well suited to such entertainment (though I’m sure it was hardly so entertaining while it was actually happening).
Ryan and Ramius were good characters and watching them work separately was just as fun as when they finally met up and had to work together. I’m always game for some ‘enemies suddenly become allies’; it’s always a good time. That said, there was a continuous undercurrent of patriotism in the book that I didn’t super like. I’ve never been particularly patriotic (the closest I get is during soccer and then I don’t even cheer for the US– los Deutschland!) so it kinda made me twitchy. The usual ‘America’s the best!’ stuff, which, yeah the Soviet Union was oppressive and not good, but America’s not exactly pure as the driven snow either. McCarthyism. Yeah.
Still, it’s a page-turner that spawned a blockbuster movie for a reason– it’s entertaining.
5/7 stars (how appropriate, since there are five on the cover)