Scimitar SL-2

by

Shortly before commencing this book I read an article which stated that if you ever found yourself reading a book you didn’t like, you should stop and get rid of it, time is too short and there are too many good books to bother reading bad ones. I don’t think I’ve ever not finished a book, but I very nearly abandoned this one.

I’ve read all of Robinson’s previous books and so I bought this without a thought. His previous works, all based around submarines and special forces missions, have made some entertaining reading with some thrilling concepts and interesting characters. In this book he has a great concept (terrorists threaten to flood the US eastern seaboard with a tsunami caused by blowing up a volcano in the Canary Islands) and the same bunch of characters has returned, but it didn’t live up to the previous books.

I didn’t like this book for a number of reasons. First, there’s Robinson’s over the top pro-American stance, which means he spends half the book jamming the idea that America is the greatest country on Earth down your throat. He’d done this in previous books, but not to the same degree. This may help the books sell in the US, but it does nothing for a global audience or, more importantly, the story. Then there are the characters. Robinson has used the same characters for several books, with the core few going back quite some time, but here they are over familiar and lazily written. There’s no development of the characters, or conflict or disagreement between them and instead of finding some replacement for his main character (who has now retired) he simply brings him out of retirement (and will do again for the next book it seems). Another thing I didn’t like was that he uses the book to voice his political orientation (I lost count of the number of times the characters bellyache about not having a hard line Republican president and they make the Democrats out to be some sort of hippy tribe). Politics are fine as part of the story, but fiction is not the place to make political statements. Consumerism is writ large in the book too. All of the characters are affluent white people (overwhelmingly men) and Robinson insists on discussing their delightful meals, expensive tastes and fine wines. This is a military thriller, we don’t give a toss if they all sit down to a delicate meal of pan-fried fish accompanied by a vintage wine, we want to know how they’re going to catch the terrorists. It feels like a statement about how rich and powerful they are and leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. Last, but not least, is the authors absurd desire to detail the most minuscule thing. The story involves the evacuation of the entire eastern United States. Add a little detail by all means, but don’t start listing individual works of art, or every museum and centre of excellence that stores irreplaceable items of artistic and historical significance, apart from being boring as hell, it smacks of boasting. Aside from which, if you cut it all out, the book would come in significantly shorter, meaning it was faster paced and more intense. Stopping the chase for the terrorists to detail the evacuation plans for 10 pages takes the edge off it somewhat. All in all it made me feel that I should be holding an American flag while reading it and that every time I opened the book a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner would play.

Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it as anything more than a holiday novel, the sort of book to read in the sun that won’t tax you. It’s popcorn in a book format, swathed in the Stars and Stripes. As propaganda for how great America is, how fantastic their armed forces are and how the Republicans keep the interests of the US (and it’s rich, white citizens) in the forefront of their minds at all times, it’s a great book. For anyone who realises there is a world outside of North America, it’s worth avoiding. I won’t be rushing out to buy his next one.

Bizarrely, the previous title for the book was Tsunami, but his publishers didn’t think anyone knew what it meant and that they wouldn’t get it. I don’t know about the US, but the rest of the world knew what a tsunami was long before the tragedy that struck last December.

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Reviewed: 15th June 2005