"A sketchbook is a secret thing, a collection of unfinished and often times abandoned ideas never intended for public consumption—at least not in their current state. It’s a private space for honing one’s craft and workshopping, separating good ideas from those best left unexplored." -Brian Heater at The Daily Cross Hatch.

21 July 2011

Author Beach: An Appraisal

(Captain Edward L. Beach Jr. Submarine commander, Author. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons.)

While things are slow here at Cold is the Sea, I thought I would reprint a comment that was recently left in a post that's almost exactly 51 weeks old. The aforementioned post was my take on Captain Beach's novel "Cold is the Sea", which I appropriated for the title of this blog. The author of the following comment is a former Navy scientist, and I figured since he knows of what he speaks, it was worth reprinting in its very own post. There are SPOILERS within, so be warned. So here you go Topper, you have your very own guest book review on Cold is the Sea (the blog, not the novel). Thank you for your service!:

"It's almost a year since I made my first comment following your post about "Dust on the Sea." (DOTS) It took me a while to find a copy of "Cold is the sea," (CITS) and when I finished it I decided not to immediately come back to your site to give you my update, as you had invited me to do, but to wait until I reread "Run silent, run deep" (RSRD) again, to try and find some overall perspective. Here is what I now think:

(1) RSRD is a truly excellent novel. It draws on the authors extensive experience of undersea warfare, and his evidently deep technical expertise, which are then coupled with a remarkable narrative flair, to produce a deeply convincing and enjoyable story.

There is only one slightly critical comment I can find to say about RSRD, and I think I am really being unfair in even raising it. Beach, in his prefacing remarks to the novel, states that all the events portrayed are fictional, although technically feasible. He obviously based them on his own personal experiences, as well as those of other submarine commanders that he heard about, or was told about, during his period of service. He then, very cleverly, arranged and fictionalized them to construct his narrative. The main character, Richardson (clearly based on Beach himself), is the main protagonist in most of these events. However, there are so many of them that, as I approached the end of the story, I find my credibility being stretched a little to believe that one man could have accomplished so much. At the very end, when Richardson personally directs his sub, alone on the bridge, to ram the lifeboats in his fanatical quest to kill Bungo Pete, and then (a few pages later) jumps off the sub to save three airmen from drowning, and then (a few pages again) goes to Washington to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, I really thought Beach might be succumbing to the temptation of self-glorification.

The reason I say this comment is "unfair" is that Beach, of course, was trying to create an exciting story for his readers, which he clearly succeeded in doing. The positive qualities of the story overwhelm such trifling quibbles.

(2) It is clear from the finale of RSRD that Beach did not originally intend to write a sequel. But such was its success, that his publisher probably offered him a lot of money to do so. He may have had the problem that he had used up most of his best material on RSRD, and therefore had to resort to more pure invention (which he wasn't quite so good at) in DOTS, which didn't quite ring true when compared to the authentic stuff related in the first story. It is perhaps for this reason that you found: "the book took on the turn of a Boy's Own adventure and just became so unbelievable I couldn't really get into it." I still feel more forgiving though, probably because I am enthralled by the technical navy stuff (I'm a retired navy scientist).

(3) CITS is clearly a work of pure fiction, as far as the naval action goes. Beach, however, again uses his ability to weave in his own personal experiences, together with his expertise, in a very engaging way. I found the interactions with Brighting (i.e., Rickover) absolutely compelling, and very believable. While I never met anyone as exalted as Rickover during my career, I did deal with several people of that personality type. The navy bureaucracy has (or, at least, had) many prickly martinets, both in and out of uniform. They could be difficult to work with, but they got the job done!

I also read the articles on both Beach and Rickover on Wikipedia which, if you haven't already seen them, are worth a visit. The interaction between the two of them is covered in the Beach article. I didn't realize that, at the time of his retirement, Rickover was the longest serving US Navy officer ever (63 years). Nobody was able to retire him! Finally, it took a gentle nudge from President Reagan (who Rickover probably liked and trusted) to get him to go. He sure left a great legacy for the United States."

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