January 2020, Question 1

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  1. What do you think of the use of a submarine as the main setting bit? What works for it? What falls flat for you?

Comments

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    The only other books I have read set on a submarine are post WW2, eg Crimson Tide and Ice Station Zebra, and the films which are most similar have been shown from the surface ship's point of view, eg The Cruel Sea. As a setting it really worked for me, and I found the descriptions of submarine, crew, and shore-related matters very credible and compelling.

    I suppose the only thing that fell flat was what I talk about in your Q2 topic, that the authorial choice to have a long series rather than a single book meant that there was no real final resolution. But given the time frame of this book, and the duration of the war, that was always going to happen.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    I suppose the only thing that fell flat was what I talk about in your Q2 topic, that the authorial choice to have a long series rather than a single book meant that there was no real final resolution. But given the time frame of this book, and the duration of the war, that was always going to happen.

    You might enjoy the late Alexander Fullerton, who wrote non-series RN submarine novels set in WWII. All of his books resolve without reservation for future expansion, and he was a superb writer. He lived it, as a submariner in the war, and knew it very well.

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    I definitely works, or at least seems to have similar potential as surface ships.
    Pros, to me, are that you really get to exploit the other senses - sound, smell, touch - and I think that could be a lot of fun, both for the writer and the reader.
    Cons, I wonder how many tricks the pony has. After reading the book, I decided to watch Das Boot on Netflix and you know what - much of what we see in that sub is the same as was described in this book. Rivets popping and all that. Can popping rivets really sustain as series?

    Btw, when diving in the German sub, the crew all charged forward into the bow. That didn’t happen in the Bucket that I recall. Also, the sub in Das Boot was straining at 220m depth. I seem to recall them saying the Bucket was rated for 300m, but then didn’t they go down to 500 at one point?
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    The sense of claustrophobia was well done. Also, the physical closeness of the crew (something about being so close you couldn't fit a ruler between their faces struck me). The sense of danger was constant, along with the limited options and the constant threat from the elements and the boat's own machinery before even considering enemy action.

    I looked up the T-class submarine on Wikipedia. The maximum depth mentioned was 400ft. It strained my disbelief-suspenders when The Bucket went down to 550ft as if it were something that happened all the time.

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    220 meters is far more than 500 feet, @Apocryphal.
    @Michael_S_Miller - I believe that both US and British subs in service more or less routinely exceeded their designed depths, which were rather conservative. I have always wondered if these official design depths were to throw off the enemy, and they were KNOWN to be understated by the skippers. This is hinted at in a couple memoirs I have read.

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    The idea of a close-knit community, isolated, and with a mission, is one that works. It's very similar to other military fiction, with surface ships (Hornblower) or "special forces" (Sharpe). The submarine setting in particular emphasises cleverness and individual choices, rather than being just one cog in a large machine, as in the surface navy (as shown in the start of the book).

    But I share @Apocryphal 's concern on how much the submarine itself could sustain a series. On the other hand, I don't recall a great many naval battles in Hornblower: the characters were generally doing things other than firing cannons at each other.

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > 220 meters is far more than 500 feet, @Apocryphal.
    > @Michael_S_Miller - I believe that both US and British subs in service more or less routinely exceeded their designed depths, which were rather conservative. I have always wondered if these official design depths were to throw off the enemy, and they were KNOWN to be understated by the skippers. This is hinted at in a couple memoirs I have read.

    Isn't it part of the submarine writing trope? Irrespective of whether it actually happened, I mean. Every sub book I have read has had the dive below rated maximum depth, with the crew looking anxiously at each other.
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    edited February 6

    @Richard Abbot - I also read non-fiction submarine books, especially when I was researching my game, and many of the older generation of submarine fiction authors, like Ned Beach, Alexander Fullerton, and Harry Homewood, were submariners - and the going below design depth is there as well, so the trope seems to reflect reality.

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    It's fun. I like the way the culture is contrasted with the Navy, being somewhat less strictly formal, with no room for deadweight. Also, when the main character first went on the submarine, there's a sense of joy in it, which hooked me on the book.
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    In the beginning of WWII, the RN was suffering from superpower hangover, and from the fact that those who are promoted in a peacetime navy are not those who tend to do well in a wartime navy. It was thought that the ossified tradition-bound manners were a proximate cause of its success, instead of success having happened in spite of it. The biggest successes of the WWII RN were from the submarine service and the small ships, both of which were far more flexible and less fossilized. This did not go unnoticed. Even during the war, changes occurred throughout the RN, which were expanded and encouraged in the post-war navy. Things today are far better as a result.

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > In the beginning of WWII, the RN was suffering from superpower hangover, and from the fact that those who are promoted in a peacetime navy are not those who tend to do well in a wartime navy. It was thought that the ossified tradition-bound manners were a proximate cause of its success, instead of success having happened in spite of it. The biggest successes of the WWII RN were from the submarine service and the small ships, both of which were far more flexible and less fossilized. This did not go unnoticed. Even during the war, changes occurred throughout the RN, which were expanded and encouraged in the post-war navy. Things today are far better as a result.

    That makes sense. From what I've read of WW2 history in the early stages, the RN really overrated itself, and disregarded things such as the Merchant Navy.

    From what my grandfather had told me from his experiences on a minesweeper in WW2 things weren't quite so traditional, but with occasional spikes of it coming in extreme form (as in this book) from an obnoxious officer.
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    @dr_mitch - Also minesweepers were some of the 'little ships', which were less tradition bound to begin with.

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    Yes, that occurred to me too after what you said.
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