Camping with Cussler, Ringo, and Anderson

I've been on vacation all week, doing my best not to think about work. Since I knew we'd be spending a few days camping, I decided to push the review pile to the side and do a little pleasure reading. I didn't have any specific titles in mind, but I knew precisely what kind of books I wanted to enjoy.

First up, I made sure we stopped at the drug store on our way out of town. I wanted a Clive Cussler adventure to read, and there's always a new one on the paperback rack, so I figured I would take my chances with what was available. I was hoping for a new Dirk Pitt story, or perhaps something from the Isaac Bell series, but what I ended up with was a copy of The Tombs, the fourth Fargo Adventure. I knew nothing about Sam and Remi Fargo, but the cover blurb hit all the right notes - archaeologist . . . secret historical site . . . hidden tomb . . .treasure hunters - so I gave it a shot.

I'm glad I did. Yes, it's a formulaic bit of storytelling that manages hit on pretty much all the genre clich├ęs, but that's okay. Actually, it's more than okay, it's precisely what I expect from a Cussler novel. It's familiar and enjoyable - a fast-paced, easy read that 'feels' authentic in terms of history and technique. As for Sam and Remi, they're a thoroughly enjoyable couple of protagonists, and the members of their support team are interesting in their own right, particularly Tibor, the resourceful taxi-driver.

The story is a fun one, built around a globe-trotting race to discover a series of treasures buried by Atilla the Hun, all leading to the final resting place of his own jewel-filled golden coffin. It's the Fargos versus a crooked Hungarian mobster and his Russian hired gun, with special appearances by local law enforcement and historical antiquities authorities. Many of the treasures are far too easily located, requiring nothing more than two shovels and the cover of darkness, and the speedy removal of a thousand skeletons from a battlefield strains credibility, no matter how many graduate students help out, but the excavation of the final tomb is worth the wait.

The final climax is, perhaps, a bit unnecessary in its excessiveness, but it's nice to see that there are consequences for running afoul of the bad guys. It's not great literature, and certainly not comparable to the best Dirk Pitt adventure, but The Tomb is better than most of the competition, Dan Brown included.

Along with my Clive Cussler adventure, I decided I wanted a decent techno-thriller to read - something along the lines of Tom Clancy, but a little bit . . . well, slimmer. Actually, I wanted more than that, I wanted something completely over-the-top, so I settled on Ghost, the first Paladin of Shadows book, from John Ringo. Now, to be honest, I picked up an e-book copy of this purely because so many people cautioned me against it. What can I say? I've discovered some great reads out of spite . . . unfortunately, this wasn't one of them.

Anyway, I went into this knowing full well that Ringo is a man's man, a red-blooded American man, and a vocal conservative. That's not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, it's just who he is. I thoroughly enjoyed what I had previously read of Yellow Eyes - I put it back on the shelf when I realised it was book 8 of the Posleen War, and probably not the best place to start - so I knew what to expect.

Where Ghost failed for me was with Michael Harmon, its protagonist. He and I got off to a bad start, rubbing each other the wrong way from page one, and I only persevered as long as I did because I was hoping he'd come to a brutal and bloody end, leaving a less distasteful protagonist to save the day. He's a racist, sexist, degenerative pig of a human being, with nary a single redeeming quality to salvage his character. When you find yourself almost ready to root for the terrorists and their deplorable campaign of sexual slavery, it's time to pack in it and move onto another book.

Last on my reading list for the campsite was something the crosses genres, with a significant clash of culture and technology. I considered several possibilities, with Island in the Sea of Time by S. M. Stirling nearly winning the day, but eventually settled on Into the Storm, the first book of the Destroyermen series from Taylor Anderson. This is a series I've been curious about for some time, so I decided to finally give it a shot.

A contemporary battleship being sent back to prehistoric times would have been interesting enough, but making the ship a WWI destroyer that is already failing when pressed into WWII service is a nice touch, and making that prehistoric world an alternate one, populated by a cat-like race at war with a reptilian one, is fantastic.

As sea-fairing military thrillers go, this a solid read. I tend to gravitate more towards submarines than destroyers when looking for a naval adventure, but the historical aspect was more than enough to pique my interest. The characters were all nicely developed, with a few standouts that I hope get more page time as the series continues. In terms of world-building, this is more establishing a concept than truly executing on it, but Anderson lays out enough detail to make the story work, and to make you want to keep reading. The clear delineation between the 'good' race and the 'bad' one is a bit simplistic, so I hope he blurs that line a bit in subsequent volumes. I'm really interested to see how the tentative American/Japanese true develops, and would be disappointed if Anderson didn't blur some lines there as well, particularly in terms of alliances with the new races.

There's a lot of potential here, and while I'm not sure it can sustain eight books (which is where the series stands today), I'm more than willing to go along for the ride and see how long the fun lasts. It's a book full of ideas that have been done before, but never quite in this manner. As for the writing, it's a bit cold and simplistic to start, but I could feel Anderson becoming more and more comfortable as the book progressed, with bodes well for future volumes.