"There is much discontent in these islands, shared by both commoners and merchants alike."
You’re a US Navy submarine officer and you do not like anyone on your ship; they don’t much like you, either. Come to think of it, no one seems to like anyone aboard R. Cameron Cooke’s USS Providence. There’s the fat and balding Executive Officer, a sad careerist who lacks motivation in every area except laziness. And the Engineering Officer is certifiable, murderous, and a sadist. The chiefs are snarling back-biters. An ensign who can't get his act together to save his life--literally. The blue-shirts alternate between the overly gung-ho to the criminally deficient. And the captain readily brokers indecisiveness with colossally bad decisions. What skipper would stop on emergency tasking to surface his sub and breakup a fishing boat hijacking? This is not a happy ship.
Ah, but that leave the door open for unexpected heroism, redemption, and character growth (plus more bad decisions by the captain), good stuff for any novel. If I seem to be too hard on the characters in Rise to Victory, it could be from reading too many Clancy-esque All-American types in past submarine thrillers. I welcome less typical characters but this bunch has me questioning the Navy’s recruiting practices.
One thing Rise to Victory has going for it—a very believable plot. Writers should not forget one can build a satisfying novel with credible plotting. An American fast attack is but a biscuit throw from the pier in Pearl after a grueling six month patrol when they are given new orders. They must turn away and transit to the Indonesian island of Bunda to extract a US citizen, a physician performing vital humanitarian work among the villagers. Ok, I can see why this could move the crew to anger and maybe even madness, but orders is orders. There’s a civil war brewing in the island nation, the natives want independence, and Arab terrorists are in the middle of it. Captain Edwards gets his crew under control and the sub races west to get the job done and go home. Which is why I found it odd the captain and officers could be moved to spring a commando raid on a small fishing boat under attack from a band of pirates. Chivalry apparently doesn't let common sense hold it back.
By the time the gang arrives at the op, there are casualties among the crew and mysterious transients emanating from the sub. A rescue party is sent overland to get the doctor and Capt. Edwards meets his counterpart, Capt. Peto Triono of the Indonesian Navy. Peto’s German-design Type 214 boat is a stark contrast to the nuclear Providence. The Hatta is diesel powered with AIP (Air Independent Propulsion, i.e., fuel cells power the electric motors) capabilities—it can cruise silently at 8 knots for 17 days without surfacing or snorkeling. Factor in special torpedoes that can "swim out", i.e., be launched silently as opposed to US subs which announce their presence to the world with a launch, and the Hatta can pose a threat to the US sub. At this point I knew this book was going to be a keeper. Nuke sub vs. littoral AIP sub, someone's bound to get hurt. Although Peto is an officer of the Indonesian Navy it's not difficult to see his sympathies lie with the rebels.
The novel’s technical details play a solid supporting role without uselessly bogging down the reading pace the way some techno-thrillers do. Likewise, Cooke wisely avoids cramming in a love story or sex scenes when the book is about the men on the sub, how they treat each other, and how they react to unexpected circumstances.
I was anxious to see how the author set up and handled the confrontation between the vastly different but similarly deadly submarines. Cooke does not disappoint. The heart of any submarine fiction is the duel between the ships. By placing the disparate antagonists in a smartly-crafted setting, Rise to Victory supplies ample payoff and ends with a bang sure to outrage animal rights activists. Call that a mark in the plus column.
© 2006 SUBSIM Review