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Book Title: Something's Alive on the Titanic|
The author of the book: Robert J. Serling
ISBN 13: 9780312051594
Edition: St. Martin's Press
Date of issue: October 5th 1990
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 568 KB
City - Country: No data
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Reader ratings: 3.3
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Your mom was probably right about a lot of things (your eyes did stick that way; those sticks and stones did break your bones), but she was wrong about this: you can judge a book by its cover.
At least this book.
Start with the cover art. You see the hull of a ship, underwater, encrusted with rust and barnacles. There is a wine bottle and glass nestled in the sand, alongside a half-buried life buoy. (You might ask yourself, why did the buoy sink? That’s your first mistake with a book like this. Don’t ask questions). There is a porthole in the hull, within which you can see tables set for an elegant dinner; a ghostly green-yellow glow emanates from the interior. At this point, you might notice the disconnect. This seems to be a ship at the bottom of the ocean, yet the inside appears unaffected, which is not a normal condition upon a liner’s plunge to the sea floor.
What can be going on?
In case you haven’t figured it out exactly by now (judged solely by the cover, remember), there is that title: Something’s Alive on the Titanic. At this point, you smack yourself on the forehead. Now I get it! Some thing is alive on the Titanic. Not somebody. Something.
Hint: it’s not a humpback anglerfish.
Something’s Alive on the Titanic was written by the late Robert Serling, who also penned the similarly obviously-named novel The President’s Plane is Missing. (I respect the honesty and the bluntness of these titles; no fancy metaphor or obscure quote or a proper noun. He just comes right out and says it, on the cover: my book is about the President’s plane, and I have to inform you, it is missing). It starts in 1975, before Bob Ballard has discovered the RMS Titanic, which sank on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg. (I think they made a movie about it). A team of explorers, led by the intrepid John Hawke, set out to find the lost liner and recover a fortune in gold believed to be hidden in the ship’s hold.
I’m not going to spoil things and tell you precisely what they find; however, you can surmise that they find some thing, and that thing is not necessarily gold. This is Part I.
Part II takes place in 1995, after Dr. Ballard has made his famous discovery. The goal of this second expedition is to find out what happened to the first expedition, back in 1975. Once again, they find something. (I’ll go so far as to say they find things of a ghostly variety). As to further plot specifics, I will leave them to discover on your own.
One thing is clear about this novel: it has a great title. But does its quality match the implied promise of its evocative cover? Well, also on that cover (which is turning out to be infinitely informative), Something’s Alive on the Titanic is hailed as a mixture of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. After a bit of thought, I would have to agree.
If you open these pages expecting deep characterizations, psychological complexity, snappy or profound or dialectical conversations, or a learned exchange of philosophies, you will probably be disappointed. Then again, what did you expect? I mean, seriously, check out that cover again.
What you actually get is a novel that certainly transcends its pulpy title, yet also embraces its trashier aspects. It is a surprisingly seamless melding of history, technology, and genuine spookiness. Sure, Serling actually grasps for characterizations, and should be given points for an attempt, but in the end, all his characters have one defining trait, and each act exactly as the plot requires. (For instance, one expedition member is defined by the apparent incongruity of his physical strength and his love of Melville; a female expedition member stands out because she’s…well, because she’s female).
Where Serling excels is in working fascinating bits of Titanic trivia and deep-sea diving technology into the narrative. As an amateur Titanic expert (check out my review of A Night To Remember for my bona fides), I can tell you that you can actually learn a ton of arcane factoids. Heck, in the first ten pages or so, Serling delivers an enjoyable journey through the ship’s manifest, noting the inclusion of a motion picture, William Carter’s Renault (which Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet defiled in James Cameron’s film), and a heroic 719 cases of sundry liquor. He even touches on the legend of the mummy’s tomb.
Serling’s ability to convey factual information in an entertaining way works equally well for Titanic buffs and Titanic virgins (such as Kate Winslet, before she got in William Carter’s car). If you’re a buff, you will enjoy seeing this information used to support a ghost story; if you’re a newcomer, you’ll actually learn quite a bit (but you should bear in mind that the part about the ghosts is fictional). I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s a nice feeling to learn a little something from a novel.
Along with the history, you also receive a download of diving technology, at least as it existed fifteen to twenty years ago. You will be told how many pounds per square inch are pressing down on our heroes’ heads when they slip beneath the waves in their submersibles; and you will be told exactly what happens when those pounds per square inch find a small crack in those submersibles.
When I first read this book, a long, long time ago, I did so because I was a Titanic nut. I loved the Titanic before it became cool (when Cameron’s movie was released in 1997) and loved it after it became decidedly un-cool (at some point in 1999, where everyone who went to see Titanic five times started to pretend they had hated it from the start).
It was a surprise, then, to find myself actually a bit spooked by the story. I wasn’t scared, and I didn’t have nightmares, but I got goose pimples a few times, and maybe I shuddered once or twice.
There was a man standing in the center of the room…Wearing the bridge coat of the Royal Merchant Marine. A black officer’s cap, with the White Star insignia. Under the peaked cap was a face – square-jawed, stern, very British…On the right temple was a tiny black hole, jagged around the edges as if a bullet had penetrated there. Into the oceanographer’s numbed mind came the realization that he was looking at William Murdoch, Titanic’s first officer. Murdoch, who had been in charge of the bridge at 11:40 p.m., April 14, 1912. Murdoch, who had given the fateful command – “Hard astarboard” – the command that turned the ship into the hidden ice spur that ripped out her guts in thirty seconds. Murdoch, who, according to several eyewitnesses, had shot himself in the temple just before the giant liner sank. The figure was shaking its head…
At some point in the novel, all subtlety is lost, but there are several moments like the one quoted above, where the supernatural elements are woven together with the history to create something that is satisfyingly creepy, yet grounded in the human reality of the disaster.
Just in case I haven’t sold you on this yet, and really, the cover is all you need, there is also a suitably horrible sex scene, told from the perspective of a man listening outside the door of two lovers. Yes, you heard me correctly. The sex scene is presented as a dialogue between two very loquacious and goal-oriented individuals, who have no qualms informing their respective partner which body part to suck, and exactly how many orgasms they have achieved.
It’s on page 157. I know this because my twelve-year-old self broke the book’s binding at this spot.
Bad sex. The Titanic. Ghosts. This is a winning combination, and if I can’t convince you…well, take another look at that cover.
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