I’ve been reading thrillers and other types of genre fiction lately. Clive Cussler is my favorite of these so far, largely because I really like action. Car chases, helicopter crashes, pirate battles: all that stuff! Here’s what I think of this latest Cussler book Shock Wave. The opening is fantastic. The action and scene-setting are superb. The prose is as purple as it gets, as should be expected with this kind of pulp ficiton.
A Clive Cussler Novel Opens with Action
A ship full of convicts being taken to some faraway land for use as slaves capsizes. The survivors build a raft from the remnants of the ship and are set adrift upon it. Over time, they’re driven to cannibalism to survive, and only eight people make it to an uninhabited island. One of the female survivors bears two children … but alas, this awesome story isn’t really the story of this Clive Cussler book.
We then skip ahead to the surviving sea captain who, on his deathbed years later back in merry old England, reveals that the mom and her kids are still living on the island. In fact, she has been sending him letters through some sort of intermediary. However, just as he is dying, she is also dying and has sent her kids to be educated on the mainland, along with a bag full of “rocks.” The rocks are precious diamonds. Cool! But that’s still not the story! This leads to her kids, the mine’s inheritors, starting a diamond mine on the island and their offspring becoming evil slavers that ruin the world and kill people with “sonic pollution.”
Which Story is This Book Even About?
The bit about the evil diamond slavers turns out to be the main part of the story, but since we go through two other entirely different stories to get there, I, as a reader, don’t actually trust the story. I don’t dare get emotionally invested in this story because, by this point, I’m pretty sure this is actually the precursor to another entire story, since this Clive Cussler book seems to have a thing about skipping decades ahead and starting a whole new story at the drop of a hat.
Finally, there’s the story of a detective trying to solve the mystery of people, seals, and penguins dying from sonic pollution. Meanwhile, the evil diamond slavers try to keep their dastardly deeds secret. There’s a good sister who’s the detective’s love interest, who clashes with the evil sister who is also sexy in a kind of S&M way. By the time we get to this story, I’m kind of exhausted from all the preliminary stories. Plus, I kind of hate the beautiful, innocent, flaxen-haired sister for being so perfect.
My point, dear readers, is that you read in order to get emotionally invested in your story. That’s the main point of reading. If, like Clive Cussler, you yank readers around from story to story and character to character too much, you abuse their trust. I found this story incredibly fragmented and rather old-fashioned in its simplistic clash between classic “good characters” versus “evil characters.” The action, however, is great. Fights, car chases, boat wrecks: it’s all in there!
Readers Must Emotionally Invest in Characters
I learned my first big lesson about the issue of emotionally investing in characters in the first draft of my novel Bits of String too Small to Save. I introduced readers to a wonderful character, ElizabethAnn, and then pulled the rug out from under them to introduce new characters, leaving her out of the story for way too long. Luckily, my editor Sarah Lovett caught the error in time. So, I wrote ElizabethAnn into more chapters so readers could keep their emotional attachment. But with Cussler, he’s writing an epic saga that takes place over generations. So, you’re going to lose track of some of the characters as the story progresses, which I think bothers some people more than others.