Friday, February 5, 2010

Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic

Raise the Titanic
Clive Cussler
ISBN: 9780425194522
Published: 1976

***Disclaimer: This annotation contains spoilers.

When I chose the genres I wanted to read for this class, I decided to choose mostly genres I very rarely or never read and then a couple that I loved. The adventure genre falls firmly into the first category. Though I have read a few, like apparently The Da Vinci Code, it is definitely one of the ones I am least familiar with. Since I have a limited knowledge of the genre I decided to go with one the authors Saricks saw as a cornerstone of adventure, Clive Cussler. I picked Raise the Titanic because she said it was his first book; I have since found out that she was incorrect. That's not terribly important, but I will be more careful to verify her information in the future. Keep in mind that the book was published in 1976, before the Titanic was found in 1985.

Raise the Titanic starts with the US government’s search for the elusive, ultra-rare element byzanium. The government needs this for its super-secret think-tank’s super-secret missile defense system. This is not a real element, before you go to look. Completely made-up. Apparently, there used to be a lot of this made-up byzanium in Russia, but it was all mined by an American working for a French company in the early part of the 20th century and then vanished.

It is eventually discovered that this byzanium made its way into the cargo holds of the Titanic, and thus begins the meat of the story. At this point we have already met the main character – Dirk Pitt – but this is where he begins to take on a more active role, in salvaging the Titanic. We also get a closer look at some of the characters involved in the sub-plot, Gene and Dana Seagram. Gene is involved in the super-secret Meta Section think tank, and Dana works as a marine archaeologist. They are having marriage problems because Dana likes her career and is a “liberated woman,” and Gene thinks that she should have his babies. That is the sub-plot. Again, this is written in 1976.

They eventually find the Titanic and are able to begin the process of raising her to the surface, but then there is a murder on one of the submarines involved in the salvage. Who could be responsible for this? In 1976? Why the Russians of course! They have two spies involved in the mission, and Dirk decides to take on the job of smoking them out discreetly. While raising the Titanic in the middle of the ocean. Oh, and a hurricane is coming.

Drama ensues, they raise the Titanic, try to tow her to New York and the tow line is cut right when the hurricane hits. Russians board during the eye of the storm and it looks like Dirk is lost at sea, oh no! The Russians, of course, make Dana get naked to try to shame the American men into doing what they want, but luckily Dirk shows up to save the day before they have to look at her too long, even though she enjoys the attention, being a liberated woman. He managed to sneak a bunch of Marines aboard, and the day is won! They weather the hurricane, one of the worst on record, in a ship with holes in it that has already sank once, make it back to New York, and oops! When they cut open the cargo hold there is no byzanium there, just gravel. But don’t worry! Dirk finds it in a grave site instead after a few pages. The end. Oh, subplot – Gene Seagram goes literally insane and Dana sleeps with Dirk.

The conventions of this book are very much in line with the characteristics of adventure; there is one dangerous situation after another, there is a happy ending (except for Gene losing his mind, but he didn’t like Dirk Pitt so what good is he?). Dirk Pitt is very much a central hero what with being able to do everything perfectly, all the women wanting him, and all the men wanting to be him. The setting is incredibly important to the story, as it should be with adventure novels. The mood was hard for me to pin down, as I was so irritated for the majority of my reading time, but I honestly didn’t find it terribly dark or menacing except in the prologue, so it may have a lighter tone than a lot of adventure novels.

I think what I enjoyed most about the storyline was the blatant misogyny. Thinking about all of the precise reasons it irritated me kept my interest up, and it gave me a starting point for conversation when asking friends and family if they enjoy Cussler. I am not being sarcastic here; thinking about the role of women in adventure novels and my apparently limited knowledge of the women’s movement in the 70’s was a lot more interesting than watching Dirk Pitt go around being perfect. I didn’t even know what we were up against, and I want to reiterate my support for the awesome feminists who made novels like this a faux pas today.

In spite of my distaste, I think I can name some appeals. First of all, it is very light reading – easy to read. This is not a book heavy on specific technical jargon. While it does have some, it is very easy to understand and explained comprehensively and concisely. Also it has a very masculine appeal. This is a book in which men are very good at things and it features a community of men who are very good at things. Dana Seagram is picked to do one thing, talk to the press, not because she is good at it but because they are less likely to yell at her. Because she is a woman. Another appeal is the setting. The Titanic is interesting – it was supposed to be the toughest ship ever built and it was beautifully appointed and filled with wealthy important people, yet it sank anyway.

I can only hope that Cussler gets better. This is one of his early novels and it is entirely possible that he improves. A lot of people seem to like him, but like my husband said, this novel seemed more like the caricature of an adventure than an actual adventure. But then, maybe that’s what people like. Reading this novel has actually opened my eyes quite a bit, as I know how popular the man is, yet I cannot wrap my head around the idea of this book being enjoyable. Has anyone else read and enjoyed it?


  1. I didn't even know what we were up against

    Yes, it was really bad then. I remember that. I don't think I'll be reading this novel anytime too soon either for those reasons.

    Nice review here, thanks.

  2. Interesting observations about the role of when in genre fiction reflecting the role of women in society. Great stuff to think about.