Did you know Frank Herbert wrote non-science fiction stuff? I had never read anything of his except Dune, so when I found this at the library book sale, I was intrigued. Unfortunately, it reads like a less-interesting and not-quite-as-cohesive Alistair MacLean.
There’s some kind of war on, against the Eastern Powers. It seems to maybe be in the future (keeping it sci-fi adjacent?). However, none of what’s going on in the outside world is really addressed. Ninety percent of the story takes place in a submarine, with a crew of four hardy soldiers on a mission to steal oil from underwater wells in enemy territory. Submarine crews have been “cracking up” at an alarming rate, so one of the four is actually an undercover behavioral psych plant, inserted into the mission to find out what’s going on with the sailors. There’s another weird nod to science fiction, where the captain has some doohickey implanted in his neck and the undercover psychologist regularly sneaks away to read the emotional telemetry it records. To make things more complicated, there is a suspected spy on board. So everybody’s tense and paranoid, but they have to work together to outsmart enemy submarines and get home with the oil.
The submarine stuff is super detailed, and I skimmed a lot of it. “At the sill of the Norwegian basin, they lost the gut as it shoaled, crept along the basin rim, course 276 degrees.” Don’t know what any of that means; don’t care. We get bits of backstory about the four sailors, but nothing at all about the outside world, and what is going on with the war. There were long stretches that were supposed to be tense, but I struggled to care about any of it. I was disappointed. Dune, for Pete’s sake! I know Herbert can write atmosphere! It was lacking here, sadly.
I did grow to like the captain, who was supposedly the one cracking up and endangering his spy-filled crew. He was the most interesting character:
I’m nuts. But I’m nuts in a way which fits me perfectly to my world. That makes my world nuts and me normal. Not sane. Normal. Adapted.”
Sorry, Frank, but this one gets a big ol’ “meh” from me.