Sunday, March 19, 2006

Lost City/Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos

Since there aren't very many pure adventure novels published these days, and since I liked the other Clive Cussler novel I read, PACIFIC VORTEX, I decided to give this one a try. It's part of a spin-off series called The NUMA Files. Instead of Dirk Pitt, the hero is underwater adventurer Kurt Austin, who heads up NUMA's Special Assignments Team. (NUMA stands for National Underwater and Marine Agency.) The Lost City of the title refers to a geologic formation in the North Atlantic that holds a secret which could have a huge effect, for good or ill, on the world, but most of the action takes place in the French Alps.

I wanted to like this book. A lot of it seems pretty much perfect for my tastes. Kurt Austin is a suitably stalwart hero, there's a varied and interesting supporting cast of good guy characters, the villains are properly dastardly and bent on world domination, and the plot is the sort of over-the-top silliness that was so common in secret agent movies and novels during the Sixties, one of my favorite genres. But it has one flaw that I just couldn't get past, one that it shares with a lot of modern thrillers: it's too blasted long. We get back-stories for all the characters. We get descriptions of just about everything that can be described. We get science and technology lessons. All of this is so overwhelming that I started skimming in the second half of the book just to get on with the story, something I hardly ever do. Note that I don't really blame this on Cussler and Kemprecos. Big books are the fashion these days. Readers demand them, and therefore so do the publishers. Or maybe the publishers just decided that books had to be longer and the readers went along with them. I don't know. But I know that as I was reading LOST CITY, I thought there was a pretty good story in there that could have been told in half the wordage. And would have been if it had been written in an earlier day and time.

Maybe I should have put a "Reactionary Curmudgeon Alert" on this post. I found enough to like in LOST CITY that I might try one of the other novels in the series someday, but probably not any time soon.

10 comments:

Bill said...

I feel pretty much the same way about the novels of James Rollins. I should love them (lost civilizations, etc.), but they're too long, and they're too by-the-numbers. I've read two, but I probably won't be reading any others.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Where are the Reader's Digest condensed novels when you really need them?

Gormania said...

My preference will always be for 60-75,000 word books--and even at 75,000 the author damned well has to justify the length. It's not that I can't read long books. For the most part I simply won't. John D MacDonald learned how to do backstory (as did a lot of JDMs generation) from John O'Hara (who got too verbose himself). I always recommend Appt in Sumarra by O'Hara as the right way to do backstory. He makes it fun--sexy, sarcastic, grumpy, angry, pithy--it isn't just adding length or droning on--it's as much fun as the front story. My favorite example of it is a boxer who changes his name to Al Greco instead of El Greco because his manager thinks it sounds "classy." And lengthy descriptions--no way. Can't do it. I just skip em. If I find Im reading a book where I can read five pages without the pplot being advanced, I generally quit reading unless it's real literature (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Roth etc) or one hell of a lot of fun. I don't get the modern taste for long novels, though I think that if you look back through the last century, most bestseellng novels tended to be on the hefty side..

Juri said...

Same here. Not long ago I finished at least an okay thriller by Joseph Finder that was at least 50 pages too long (maybe more, but at least that). There were lots of unnecessary sentences. For example: a guy is heading off for a holiday and puts a little bag in the back of his Porsche. It's little, says the narrator/Finder, because there's not much room in Porsche's back. Now, doesn't the first sentence already give that away? I couldn't help thinking that the writers and publishers (perhaps the latter) think the readers are stupid.

Chadwick H. Saxelid said...

I just read a Friday the 13th spin-off novel (don't laugh) and it was a real chore to read at time. Sure the story was pulpy fun, but it was 403 pages long. The story was way too padded and, at 300 pages, would have been one heck of a pulpy guilty pleasure to read. It shuffled when it should have galloped.

I don't need overdeveloped characters or textbook lectures on how stuff works/looks. I want an engaging and fun story.

jim said...

Stephen King (you've heard of him?) said that a length of 150-180,000 words was a comfortable length, one long enough to get "lost" in. I'm stating that from memory--I don't have his ON WRITING handy--don't read writing manuals in the middle of a book--but I think I'm close. That might be why I prefer his short works--things like CARRIE, SALEM'S LOT, THE MIST to his doorstoppers. And have you noticed that whenever you get a director's cut, or author's preferred edition--it's always longer than the original. There must be a law--the more copies you sell the less editing you're subjected to. But if it's what the publishers want...I'm curious: has a publisher ever asked you to arbitrarily add 50, 100, 150 pages?

James Reasoner said...

I've never been told by a publisher to make a finished book longer. My problem seems to go the other way. I recently went too long on a book and was asked to cut it, and that's happened several times in the past. But I've written books to suit the wordage requirement in a contract that I thought might have been better if they were shorter.

Mark Terry said...

Cussler isn't such a hot writer, anyway. Rent "Sahara," from the videostore, turn off your brain, and enjoy the relationship between Steve Zahn and Matthew McConne-whatever-his-name-is. Enjoy the scenery, the silliness, and the female lead's (what's her name?) shirts as they get skimper and tighter with more plunging necklines as the story proceeds. The book's okay, but it's too long. The movie's okay, but it's over in about 2 hours. It kills the time nicely.

James Reasoner said...

I loved SAHARA, even though I knew just about everything that was going to happen in it 'way before it happened. I plan to read more of Cussler's novels, but I'm sure I'll stop before I get to the really long ones. The early Dirk Pitt books are fairly short.

Megalith said...

Avoid the newer Cussler novels. I recommmend Treasure, Sahara and Inca Gold. None of them are as long as the recent novels, and they're very good books.