Some annoying troll I encountered recently has been abusing Clive Cussler’s Valhalla Rising at length. He’s a bit of a slow reader though and I felt like diving in myself, so without waiting for him to get to the point I finished it and, astonishing as this may seem, I think it might actually be a worse book than The Da Vinci Code. How can I justify such an offensive statement? Well, let’s see.
It’s episodic, a procession of disparate events in a line, circling around three topics which don’t connect with each other at all but are lumped together between these covers as though they do; at least Dan Brown had a focus. It is also highly coincidental, but in really trivial ways; partly in how the above themes are presented as of one story, but also in the basic necessity of being able to have one’s marine-expert-aeroplane-enthusiast hero be able to show off all his wares – well, almost all his wares (“see below”, if that doesn’t already say too much).
It lacks any semblance of dramatic tension. There is nothing to challenge the hero’s resourcefulness, never a true doubt that he will succeed (despite the occasional paragraph bluntly telling us that he “fears failure”, a page or two before he utterly saves the day, once again). In a desperate bid to generate something to excite us the scale of peril is made to rise to ever more extreme levels (including the threat of a rather worryingly close to the New York knuckle act of terrorism – it was published in 2001 as well), which somehow makes the inevitable victory seem all the more mundane.
Say what you want about Robert Langdon (for example, “he’s a dweeby brain-head facing too little challenge to his alleged cognitive powers”), but he is at least sometimes a fish out of water and hardly a shirt-ripping superman. Dirk Pitt, on the other hand, is perpetually in his element no matter how often we are told that he is just some guy, you know, who doesn’t like guns (carries a gun), don’t know how to fight (always kicks ass), let’s wait for backup (I’m going in). Blah (blah). What about the other characters?
Well, actually there are only three characters – heroic male, villainous male, and feeeemale – distributed across many bodies. I can think of maybe a couple of exceptions: self-indulgent intellectual male and cowardly male, one used for rich-fat-comedy-exposition, the other presumably to set a benchmark for everyone else’s cock-measuring heroism. Even the women – and when I say that these chicks are proper bedroom-and-kitchen-fodder babes, chained to the sink and not to the railings, I mean ALL of them. It doesn’t matter if you’re a renowned historian (giggle), oceanographic specialist, professional hazard-diver, CEO of a multinational oil company, computer-generated-AI-interface (yes, really), or even a fucking US Congresswoman, nothing makes you happier than feeding your man and tidying up his mess – apart from being really attractive, of course.
Clearly Cussler wants his hero to be an Indiana Jones, the “ordinary world expert with a knack of saving the day”, and the entire book is basically just a collection of movie-serial set-pieces with dialogue and characterisation to match, but in neither category does it have the same quality and in Dirk Pitt certainly not the charisma of an Indy. Oh, God, yeah: and the names. You think “Dirk Pitt” is a stupid name for a character? Believe you me, that’s NOTHING. The number one “evil-foreigner” henchman for example is christened with relative restraint, but if I told you what the real villain is called you’d laugh me off the internet. So I’m not going to.
Therefore, in summary, I’m saying that this book has absolutely no balls. Think of any way that statement might be applied to pulp thriller fare and it remains true, but the main way is the literal one. Dirk Pitt is apparently desired by all women the moment they lay eyes on him, but the laying of eyes is the only laying that goes on – even when circumstance doesn’t interrupt a potentially heated moment, he practically runs away flapping his wrists and squealing the minute someone flutters their eyelashes at him. No James Bond he. Because, I suspect, probably no balls he either. Valhalla Rising is absolutely juvenile and yet not nearly juvenile enough – beat that.