Cussler Classics: Atlantis Found
It's been awhile since I've written anything here. I'm told that regular posts and newsletters will help me grow my audience, so I need to work harder on keeping up with that. Luckily, I have a lot to write about. More to write about than my time allows, unfortunately. As my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram followers probably already know, I spent a couple weeks adventuring around Mexico. I got to eat a lot of food, explore ruins, and hang out on the beach.
But more on that later.
One of my goals this year is to review every book I read. Most of them will likely not be new releases, however I am going to do my best to read mostly Indie Published books from hard working authors like myself.
This is NOT one of those reviews.
If you like Adventure Novels, Thrillers, Archaeological Fiction, or even the outdated genre of Men's Fiction, chances are you've already read a Clive Cussler novel. Hell, You may have even read this one. However, I totally acknowledge there are people out there that haven't read it, or any Cussler for that matter.
That makes this review something of a double edged sword. I don't want to venture into Spoiler Territory in case anyone wants to pick this up. I also don't want to make this one boring for anyone who has already sipped from the cup of Cussler. To maintain this balancing act, I aim to elaborate on the things that make Cussler, Cussler. Then, of course, giving you a rundown of why I think that's a good thing or a bad thing. If that sounds intriguing at all, follow along and let's go find Atlantis.
I first came across Clive Cussler (his novels anyway) at the ripe old age of twelve. I grew up in a small town in Nebraska, one that didn't offer all of the amenities of the modern world, so from time to time we had to venture into the nearest big city for groceries. I would always ask my mom if we could stop by Barnes & Noble so I could look at books. It was one of my favorite things. I didn't always get to go, and I definitely didn't always get to buy something, but I loved to just look at all the offerings on the shelves.
On the particular day in question, I was browsing the Young Adult category when I came across two books that looked quite a bit different than the other YA books. They were taller, wider, and the covers looked more "adult" than the often cartoony or stylized designs on the average middle-grade novel. I was drawn in by the bold colors, big titles, and depictions of explosions and gold coins respectively. The titles in question were YA versions of two Cussler greats "Shockwave" and "Inca Gold"
This was my lucky day, my mom let me get both.
I devoured them, I had no idea there were novels like this that I could read. They combined what I loved about Indiana Jones and James Bond into one. There was daring-do, there were evil villains, and bold heroes using technology, cunning, and sometimes violence to save the day. They were a big change from the drama and "feelings" heavy books that I often found in school. Only three other authors have impacted me so deeply.
That being said, I have a Love/Hate relationship with Mr. Cussler. "Atlantis Found" is a novel that is at once epic and cringe inducing - like all of his books.
On one hand I applaud the overall execution of his pacing in this grand plot. The initial encounters with the antagonists, the weaving of lost history and modern-day conspiracy; all top notch stuff. The fact that I am a sucker for Atlantis lore pushes this particular read to the next level. The story jumps from one exotic location and danger fraught scenario to the next at a break neck pace. The action and set pieces are varied and interesting - all the stuff of great action flicks. Other than the addition of "monsters" (a la James Rollins), this checks all my boxes.
Now for the hard parts.
I readily admit that I don't particularly care about deep characters. That's not why I read. In fact, I pretty much get railed by my co-hosts on one episode of Rogues in the House for this sentiment. I'm sure my editor would also laugh at this statement. And to be honest, I think that good ole' Clive probably feels similarly. His two man protagonists, Dirk Pitt and Al Giorodino, are what you'd expect from an action hero duo. Dirk is tall and lithe, handsome, clever, and good with the ladies. Al is shorter, beefier, a solid jokester, and also good with the ladies. I do really like the organization that the pair are affiliated with. NUMA, or the "National Underwater Marine Agency", is ostensibly a scientific organization that is operated by the U.S. Government. This allows science, history, and military to cross and combine at will within the bounds of the story. That being said, Dirk and Al are cookie cutter heroic types, every other character fits some kind of stenotype role .
There lies the rub.
The depth of the characters really isn't the problem. For me, they fit their roles perfectly. It is where the secondary, female characters come in that I begin to roll my eyes. Women are always beautiful, flirty, and go ga-ga over Dirk at a moment's notice. Sure, they are also often intelligent, and successful, but even a recurring love interest/senator ends up pretty much forsaking a substantial political career to pretty much focus on popping out kids. There seems to be a lot of this kind of sentiment.
This stuff pops so often in Cussler's fction it makes my eyes roll.
Before you start crying "SJW!" and "Snowflake", just hear me out. I actually love this stuff. It definitely appeals to many of my sensibilities as an adventure reader. Dirk Pitt is mostly the kind of adventurer that I want to be, that I imagine myself as when I daydream. But, seriously? EVERY, FREAKIN' TIME??
That is another issue with Mr. Cussler's works. They are all so cookie-cutter in their pattern that you can more-or-less drag and drop characters and scenarios into any of the novels. This definitely gets worse the deeper you get into his bibliography. By now, I think Cussler has like thirty books, maybe more. "Atlantis Found" is in the first third of his substantial library. It is preceded by what I would like to refer to as the "original plan". While "Atlantis Found" reads like the culmination of a series, and ends like it too, it is followed by two more novels that Clive wrote himself. The vast majority of these books are solid reads, especially "Inca Gold" and "Raise the Titanic". I do honestly believe that Clive was trying to wrap the series up. However, his novels were just too damn popular to let go.
And the downward spiral begins.
After this initial run, Cussler starts to have partner writers and the quality begins to dip - sometimes significantly. I have to wonder how much Clive actually wrote in these books and how much is just "branding" like Tom Clancy novels now (oh how the mighty have fallen, poor guy).
In short, if you are looking for adventure and thrills, action and daring, in the vein of James Bond and Indiana Jones, any of the "original plan" Cussler novels are a must read. Yes, there are things that will make modern sensibilities roll their eyes, but overall I think the adventure is worth it. "Atlantis Found" is one of my favorite adventure novels, and was the perfect vacation read. I honestly couldn't put it down. I read on the plane, on the beach, and on the bus. Just a good ole' fashioned, two-fisted romp.
I think my favorite part of these books is that you can literally pick up any of them, read them and enjoy. It is extremely rare for anything to straight up reference another book in the series. They are very much written in the lineage of Pulp Serials like Doc Savage and The Shadow. I am not sure if I would straight up call them Modern Pulp, like I might do with James Rollins, as there is pretty much never an injection of the "weird" that we get from the 20's and 30's magazines and short stories. I say that and totally left out the genetically engineered Nazi family in "Atlantis Found" and the Robot Samurai in "Dragon".
I have read some of the later co-authored outings, and I have enjoyed them, but they are definitely not up to snuff with the earlier Dirk Pitt adventures. Because the plotting, pacing, and other aspects are lesser, the cringe-worthy and sometimes shoddily made characters shine through more. My suggestion is to read reviews, especially the bad and mediocre ones. Decide if you can put aside those gripes and just enjoy the ride.
Up next I will be reviewing the first book in WWII adventure series, and after that I will finally get to an Indie Author! So stay tuned for that, as well as tales of my adventures abroad!
If anyone out there reading this would be so inclined to discuss this book, or Clive Cussler in general, please comment or leave a message!