Things Are Seldom What They Seem
Rising Tides: Destroyermen
Robert Shepard Jr. @ 2011-02-19
Things seem pretty straightforward at first, when USS Walker, an aging naval destroyer, gets caught up in a freakish storm at the beginning of Taylor Anderson's "Destroyermen" series. Skippered by Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy, the ship and its crew are fleeing from relentless pursuit by the Japanese shortly after the attacks at Pearl Harbor. Suddenly, the bewildered men find themselves in an utterly changed world.
Sure, the physical geography looks familiar. The ship is still in the area around what we today know as Indonesia. But the seas are teeming with plesiosaurs and other voracious creatures which should have been extinct millions of years ago, and the islands are infested with equally nasty creatures resembling velociraptors.
By the end of the first book, "Into the Storm", these stranded men -- and woefully few women -- have allied themselves with another intelligent, seafaring species, the Lemurians. Although technically primates, they quickly gain the nickname 'Cats due to their obvious feline characteristics. They are, for the most part, very peaceable -- and yet, their species faces annihilation at the claws of an ancient enemy -- the Grik.
A central plot element of the "Destroyermen", the Grik are berserk, velociraptor-like warriors who attack in swarms and eat their enemies. To them, the world is divided into "hunter" and "prey". So initially, the books have a basic "mammals good, lizards bad" type of ethos. Pretty cut and dry. If it has a tail, a long snout and razor-sharp teeth, and it's armed, shoot first and ask questions later.
But a funny thing happens as the series progresses. It turns out that a mighty Japanese battlecruiser called Amagi has also gotten caught up in the freak storm, and they end up on the side of the Grik. But, although the Japanese commander is insane, not all of the Japanese are necessarily evil. Some are just caught in a situation they can't escape without ending up on the dinner table.
Next, a member of another race of Grik-like beings known as the Tagranesi turns up on an island populated by human castaways. But Lawrence, as he's been named, is peaceable and, amazingly, can even speak English -- though proper pronunciation is hampered by his lack of lips. He is the protector of a real-life princess named Rebecca Anne McDonald from the island nation of New Britain. Yes, other humans have been swept into this bizarre parallel universe over the centuries.
So now we have "good" humans and "bad" humans, plus "good" lizards and "bad" lizards.
But soon the situation gets more complex still, as the New British turn up. Naturally, they're looking for the princess. There are two major factions -- the supporters of the Governor-Emperor, and members of the HNBC (the Honorable New British Company). Even as the protagonists are preoccupied with the ongoing war against the Grik, the HNBC agents kidnap the princess plus a few other important characters -- most notably Sandra Tucker, Matthew Reddy's love interest and de facto fiancee.
Thus, at the start of book five of the "Destroyermen" series, called "Rising Tides", Captain Reddy is now in hot pursuit of the kidnappers. With him is Commodore Jenks, a New British loyalist who has become a trusted friend and ally of the Americans. Somehow, Reddy has to rescue his friends and destroy the HNBC, hopefully without starting a war with the New British Empire itself. He doesn't need the distraction -- not when he'd rather be fighting the Grik.
However, as we'll learn in the new book, there is yet another human empire to the east, and they are inimical to everything the Americans and the New British believe in ....
I enjoyed this book as much as the others in the series. The plot is divided into a number of different parallel storylines. Besides Captain Reddy's expedition, there is the ongoing campaign against the Grik in the west. There is the continuing saga of the kidnapping victims, as they fight for survival. There is an expedition to exploit an exciting and vitally important find on the island of Jaava. And finally, there is the attempt to salvage submarine S-19 from the beach of a volcanic island which increasingly -- and disturbingly -- reminds people of Krakatoa, the volcano which exploded devastatingly in 1883 in our own universe, but not the other.
The various human and Lemurian characters continue to grow, needing to take on new roles as emergencies demand from them all the resourcefulness they can muster. They have to face moral questions as well. Should Captain Ready and the USS Walker attack the HNBC with all guns blazing? Is it acceptable to eliminate a deadly enemy, even under the flag of truce? A parallel question arises one chapter later: Is it wise to show mercy to the pitiful remnants of a vanquished foe? The New British have some customs which Americans and Lemurians both find extremely distasteful. Can they overlook this and make common cause, hoping that the New British will learn from example and end these customs?
And then there is a practical question: When is it prudent to simply give up the mission before more people get killed?
This is a pretty serious novel, with some serious battle sequences, but there is some levity as well. One of my favorite scenes involves an odd "parrot-lizard" creature which learns to talk -- unfortunately, its first words came from the quintessential drunken sailor, Dennis Silva. This critter will never say "Polly wanna cracker."
And then there's the kudzu. It looks so innocent ....
All I can say is, Taylor Anderson has a wonderful imagination when it comes to the various weird and wonderful life forms in this new world.
My only complaint about this series? Just that I'll probably have to wait another year to see what happens to our friends next. I'm seriously looking forward to it.
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