Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Hunt for Atlantis

I just finished Andy McDermott's The Hunt for Atlantis, a 500-page thriller that's part Raiders of the Lost Ark, part James Bond and part Graham Hancock. Archeologist Nina Wilde has discovered, she believes, the clues that will pinpoint the exact location of Atlantis, but suddenly finds that there is a shadowy organization that will kill her to prevent her from finding it. Teaming up with a former SAS specialist, Eddie Chase (who seems to have been obviously modeled after a variety of Jason Statham characters), she embarks on a globe-trotting expedition to find everything she needs to locate Atlantis, always staying just one step ahead of the sinister Giovanni Qobras, who demonstrates repeatedly that he is not at all above murder to keep Atlantis from being discovered. But why exactly would anyone murder to keep Atlantis from being discovered, and why would that same organization destroy what remains of Atlantis to make sure that nobody else can ever find it either?

Well, therein lies the tale. When it's all said and done, The Hunt for Atlantis, like Raiders of the Lost Ark by which it was no doubt partially inspired, is more about serving us up a fast-paced diet of action set pieces than it is a plot that's too coherent or lacking in gaping holes. So in that sense, it's pretty fun. In fact, reading it, I could almost just see the author thinking mentally about how everything could be converted into a blockbuster Hollywood action piece.

That's the good news. The plot is fast and exciting, and the action set-pieces are spectacular. Of course, action set-pieces work better in some media than in others, and I think this would have been a better movie than it was a novel. As a movie, it'd have much of the same charm as an Indiana Jones vehicle, if done well anyway--as a book, the characters felt a bit flat and lacking in believable chemistry, the plot felt rather feeble and shallow, and consisted of running from one exotic location to another, finding a vague and often somewhat hoaky clue, getting the whole place blown up in an explosive action sequence, and then going on to the next one short a few ancillary characters who didn't make it through the fireworks.

The evil mastermind plot of the villain of the piece is quite silly, really. Perfect for Hollywood, but really flimsy when you've got over 500 pages to flesh it out. They're like Nazis turned up to 11. And the notion of a secret war carried out between the descendants of Atlantean kings and the descendants of their rivals, the extremely ancient Athenians (who somehow manage to predate both the founding of Athens and the ethnogenesis of the Greek people altogether for that matter) since the end of the Ice Age is, while perhaps kind of charming, also very silly.

Despite these comments, which sound like criticisms if taken the wrong way, I hope that my tone comes across properly; I'm speaking of these flaws fondly. If you're properly level-set in your expectations, this a fun, rollicking adventure flick... oops, I mean, book... not a deep thriller, then it's quite enjoyable. A fine vehicle for showcasing the "pulp aesthetic" as I've called it before in the past, and in that sense I certainly can recommend it for a bit of light reading.

I don't think it's a much of a spoiler to divulge that Eddie and Nina survive the book, and in fact have an entire series of six (seven in early 2011) books now (including this one) chronicling their further adventures. In fact, the epilogue which sets them up as the heads of a United Nations secret spy-archeologist division is kinda clever in a comic-bookish kind of way, and is about perfect for the tone of the book. However, I have to admit that unless either the plots or the characters develop some more depth, I think the formula could wear a bit thin after a while. But, I'll give them a chance to so develop, and while I need to clean up my reading docket a bit before I can turn to the next volume, The Tomb of Hercules, I'd like to do so sooner rather than later.

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