Review of Destroyermen: Into the Storm

I thought people might find my comments and even context-building to be interesting:

Review by Joseph T Major of
by Taylor Anderson
(RoC; 2008; ISBN 978-0-451-46207-7; $23.95)

The incinerator compartment of the USS Okinawa was dim, lit up only by the fire that was broiling the steaks they were having for dinner. The diners were reminiscing about some of their near escapes. Beer Bottle Bates was talking about his brother, “ . . . Rich Richardson himself pulled him off the Walrus so they could do those torpedo tests, which made him damn mad at the time!”

Satchelaft took a swig from a bottle of beer. “I know what you mean. I got jerked off the Walker right before she vanished, assigned to the base, and then when the Japs came I had to get away to Australia. Those Balinese girls . . .”

“That’s nothing,” Fatso said. “You remember old Rock Torrey? The admiral who married that nurse and she used to see him off at the dock . . .”
— Not by Admiral Daniel V. Gallery

It may surprise you to learn that there are British naval fiction writers besides Richard Patrick “Patrick O’Brian” Russ. Writers who don’t even have to use the tropes of Gernsbackian pulp, too. The guy who seems to have made the modern market his for the moment is a fellow named Douglas Reeman, though he also writes Napoleonic-era novels as “Alexander Kent”. Not surprisingly, he specializes, or specialises, in his own fleet, and he has swollen the WWII Royal Navy with vessels and heroes no end. Reeman has covered everything from battle cruisers (Battlecruiser (1997)) to motor gunboats (The Volunteers (1985)). (I prefer the earlier ones myself, like A Ship Must Die (1979).)

His American oppos seem a little more limited. The first few years after the war saw more or less works about the citizen-sailor adjusting (or not) to military ways, the navy’s version of See Here, Private Hargrove (1944) [incidentally, the memorialist, Marion Hargrove, who could have missed a lot of gender-confusion fun if he had used his first name of Edward instead of one of his middle names, went on to be a script writer, including episodes of “My World and Welcome to It” and “Fantasy Island”]. So we had things as serious as The Caine Mutiny (1951) [incidentally, one of Wouk’s biggest fans by way of this book was Admiral Dan Gallery, of whom more later] and as silly as Don’t Go Near the Water (1956, 1957).

After the first fervor died down, some writers did do more extensive novels. Wouk returned to the entire war, albeit with a strong naval component, in The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978), the tales of go everywhere and do everything Victor “Pug” Henry, the successor to Upton Sinclair’s Lanny Budd. [Gallery, when not aiding Wouk with his naval research, dipped more into postwar stories, sometimes with a humorous turn, such as his Fatso books, and sometimes serious, as The Brink (1973).] James Basset’s restaging of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the sticks, Harm’s Way (1962) became the John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Kirk Douglas epic In Harm’s Way (1964) [which has great acting and wretched special effects; where are the reimaging sfx guys when you need them?]. Then he stuck a little more to the real events in Commander Prince, U.S.N. (1971) with the Java Sea, an allied tie-in, and something terribly akin to the case of the USS Stewart (DD224). In the thriller department, there are Steven Coonts and David Poyer, to take two of the better-known more recent writers.

But most of the novels have been sub boys, from the Man Who’d Been There, Edward L. Beach, with Run Silent, Run Deep (1955) and its sequels, down to guys like R. Cameron Cooke, who does both then and now. Destroyermen are few and far between. (This has been shifting, with the arrival of such writers as John J. Gobbell, author of such works as A Call to Colors (2006) about a destroyer at Leyte Gulf.)

None of which is relevant to Lieutenant Commander Matthew Patrick Reddy, USNR (Ghod, a feather merchant), thrust into command of a disintegrating tub not worth the fuel to steam her home to scrap, USS Walker (DD163), a “four-piper” flushdeck destroyer, one of those turned out en masse for the World War. [This is incidentally about a month before another four-piper, USS Buchanan (DD131), blew up after ramming a dry dock.] Worse yet, he’s stuck in the doomed Asiatic Fleet, fighting the Japanese in the Netherlands East Indies. Or just trying to get away from the Japanese. He could use Commander Custis Morgan Prince and his British sidekick Commander Algernon “Beaver” Monk, or even Fatso and Rich Richardson.

Instead he gets a gaggle of odd passengers, from an eccentric Australian petroleum geologist to a pair of displaced Air Corps pilots. Oh, and did I mention the six Navy Nurse Corps officers? (What are we in, Operation Petticoat (1959)? Come to think of it, Captain Reddy could even use Commander Matt T. Sherman [Archie Leach] and Lieutenant Nicholas Holden [Bernie Schwartz] of that film.)

So. with this ill-assorted guard, Captain Reddy is ready to escape. Except he runs into a couple of problems, of which the lesser is a Japanese battlecruiser, the Amagi (which in real life was in line to be converted to an aircraft carrier, only to be damaged in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923). When fleeing the rengo kantai, the Walker and her sister ship the Mahan (DD102) run into a storm. Quite a storm, in fact. Worse than the storm a guy named Padway ran into in Rome, back before the war.

This storm seems to have cleared off the Japanese. Which is odd, but fortunate, considering that the Walker and the Mahan are both pretty badly shot up. The closest base seems to be Perth, so they set course for there. This entails passing by Bali, where they discover a most remarkable sight — not somewhat-dressed pretty girls, but big ugly scaly things. Just like the big ugly scaly thing that ate the whaleboat with the Japanese (except for the one who was out cold, who they hauled aboard). Meanwhile, the Mahan goes off in another direction.

A pause. Harry Harrison did one alternate history series that was not derided before he did the ill-favored Stars and Stripes wank; the Eden Trilogy [West of Eden (1984), Winter in Eden (1986), and Return to Eden (1988)]. In this, the point of divergence was far in the past; in that world, humanity (sort of) shared the world with intelligent descendants of dinosaurs. The conflict of different intelligences is a fascinating concept in itself, never mind the other interesting ideas Harrison includes; John W. Campbell would have loved Harrison’s Ylane (particularly how it worked out for them, too).

This is a world where evolution worked out differently, and there are two intelligent species to be found; the Grik and the Lemurians. The Grik are not so big ugly scaly things. The Lemurians are cat people. (“I Remember Lemuria” is utterly irrelevant.) The Grik are just a tiny bit hostile, and the Walker finds herself thrust into a battle against a sailing ship the size of a small island, crewed (somehow saying “manned” doesn’t fly here, but not for the reason it doesn’t fly today) by not so big ugly scaly things.

Then, when the humans make First Contact with the Lemurians, they find something utterly unexpected: “Haec dixi . . . orationem . . . vestrae?” The Lemurians have a sacred tongue, passed down through the ages, a gift from some strange beings who came to their world in ancient times, leaving writings of great worth, and artifacts of immense incomprehensible power. Latin.


Being able to communicate, if in a limited sense, removes one barrier to functioning. And so, forced into alliance with the Lemurians, the crew of the Walker set about trying to make do.

With one or two little problems. You see, they have only two translators who know anything of Latin beyond “Futuemos.” And while one is the slightly daft geologist, the other is kaigun tai-i Tamatsu Shinya. That’s right, the Japanese prisoner, who has his own problems, being Americanized and yet a Japanese officer.

Commander Reddy is burdened with problems. Some of them are solvable, as they are in an area that has the same geology as its equivalent in his original time-line. That is, there is crude oil underground, and he has someone who knows how to make it usable.

Some might be remotely solvable. There may be other humans out there, and it seems unlikely they’ll ever be going back, so he can hope that he can find women for his crewmen. (And then marry the chief nurse, whom he has fallen for.)

Some might be a little hard to solve. The Air Corps Captain seemed a little bit round the bend and know-it-all, and when some guys from the Mahan turn up, Ready and the others find out how out of it Captain Kaufman is. (There are no strawberries, and he does not seem to be into rolling ball bearings; his derangement is of a different order.) At the best, he might only get irreplaceable resources lost; and what if the Mahan is captured by the Grik?

Oh yes, and there’s the Grik to consider. Problems are everywhere.

It’s all very well to note that the characters are perhaps a bit stock; admittedly, stereotypes come from somewhere and there are well-known “types” that people become under such circumstances.

You will recall from Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen (1964, 1965) Tortha Karf’s comment to Verkan Vall about how Calvin Morrison was fortunate to have been transported to someplace where his knowledge was useful. Imagine, for example, if Professor Martin Padway, out for a hike in the Pennsylvania woods, and concerned about being hit by lightning in a storm as he nearly had been that day in Rome back in thirty-nine, had been swept up by the results of an unintentional encounter between two Paratime transporters and found himself in the Principality of Hostigos, about to be conquered, and himself not knowing how to make gunpowder.

Therefore, having conveniently skilled people transported to the past or elsewhen is a temptation to the writer to make his story work well. It’s possible to write a story where the transportee doesn’t know (i.e., Poul Anderson’s “The Man Who Came Early” (F&SF, June 1956)), or has some other flaw, but that becomes a short downer, not a longer explanation of possibilities. Providing enough people who know enough things solves that problem (and adds the problem of internal conflicts), but there comes a point at which having too many of the right people beggars plausibility. It is a judgment call at where to draw the line. And then there are other concerns. For example, where it just happens that the Japanese officer they rescue is a nisei who has his doubts about the Imperial Way.

Not that Anderson isn’t handling the internal conflicts. As when Lieutenant Tamatsu, already distrusted by many of the crew, get into a conflict with an aggressive Grik and finds out what and how much his rescuer has against him (something about a son in the fireroom of the Oklahoma).

This ill-assorted, if resolute, guard has much more to confront in the next few weeks and months, and there is far more out there, from both worlds, that will have to be dealt by whatever means possible when this is . . . [To Be Continued]

Admiral Torrey’s aide, Commander Holden, led me in, saying as he did, “I hope you’ve got some good news, Rich. The phantom pain has been really getting him down, and he tore into Pug Henry. Maggie’s as worried as the rest of us.”

I said, “I’m afraid not. Commander Monk and I have been choking on the dust from their records, and there’s no trace whatsoever we can find of what happened to the Walker or the Mahan.”

— Not by Captain Edward L. Beach

Douglas Reeman

Marion Hargrove

In Harm’s Way's_Way

USS Walker (DD163)
okay, finished the book a couple days ago. Conclusion: Not bad, not great. The enemy is a bit different, being completely alien to human thinking and thus, completely evil. In a lot of ways, the book reminds me of the Lost Regiment series; a small (American!) force ends up in an alternate world, makes friends with a group of outnumbered and desperate 'people', and has to hurriedly upgrade their weapons and society to weather the coming war. I liked it just enough to buy the next book "Crusade", since it's out in paperback now...