As the U.S. Navy searches for weapons-grade plutonium that has been smuggled by terrorists out of Russia, a submarine mishap in the Black Sea brings the United States and Russia to the brink of nuclear war. It is a race against the clock, with Russian missiles activated and programmed for American cities.
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I bought this book thinking it was by Dan Brown (Digital Fortress, not Da Vinci Code), not Don Brown. I have since become acquainted with who Don Brown is. As a Christian myself, I sincerely wish him the best in continuing to develop his writing. I was not bothered by the Christian references like some reviewers, although the heavy way in which his faith was pasted on the characters was a problem. Virtually all of the good guys are believers (in Christ) and the bad guys are evenly split between drunk Russian atheists and Islamic jihadists. The story is largely implausible. The characters speak in trite ways. For instance, imagine you have a 6th grade writing class, and one of the kids in your class is the girl who always plays the lead in class plays. You give her the assignment of drafting a stirring speech that a submarine commander might give his crew before departing on a dangerous mission. You tell her to make sure it is filled with over the top patriotism and heroic anticipation. You will probably get what Brown has Miranda say to his crew.
In terms of performance, the narrator does a decent Russian accent (not accurate, just decent, and consistent). Unfortunately, he tries to affect an American accent at times, and just ends up sounding high-pitched and nasal. If I were to apportion the reasons for my low rating of this book, I would say narration 25%, bad story/characters/writing 75%.
The biggest problem is the story itself. Spoiler alert (somewhat). We always need to suspend disbelief, but we need some help from the author. What would be the best way to intercept stolen plutonium from smugglers (note: you're not even getting it back from the terrorists, just the smugglers who are going to deliver it to the terrorists)? I'll just give you two choices: Drop a clandestine seal team in to do it quietly, or send a billion dollar nuclear sub to sink a ship in "enemy" home waters?
Now, on to technical matters. Do we have a right to quibble about the accuracy of the technical information? I say "yes". This is, after all, a techno-thriller. It behooves the writer to get the technical information mostly right. I'm not saying that if the writer gets the color of a knob wrong in the cockpit of an F-15 that constitutes an epic fail, but how hard is it to get basic facts straight? Is it that hard to run your dogfight past at least some kind of a pilot? The aerodynamics just don't make sense to me ( I am a pilot). At one point, the Mig-29's climb to 7200 feet to get above the range of surface to air missiles (Gary Powers was shot down in 1960 at ten times that altitude). Others have pointed out that an air to air missile shouldn't change from a sidewinder to a stinger back to a sidewinder.
One of my biggest problems is the nuclear weapons aspect. Since it is the focal point of the novel, I think it deserves the most accuracy. Now, I hope the author isn't going to hide behind some kind of excuse like "Well, I don't want to tell terrorists how to make a nuclear weapon, so I intentionally described it so it wouldn't work." My first clue to the author's lack of knowledge and research in this area was the discussion about the amount of plutonium stolen. It was described as enough to make 4 or 5 thermonuclear weapons, or one hydrogen bomb. Unfortunately, a thermonuclear bomb and a hydrogen bomb are the same thing. He possibly could have said 4 or 5 atomic bombs, or 4 or 5 fission bombs. The discussion of the "technical marvel" of the hydrogen bomb assembled by the terrorists was totally laughable. Brown has the brilliant terrorist assemble five plutonium fission bombs in a circle. Each atomic bomb has a jar of lithium deuteride next to it outside the circle of bombs. Lithium deuteride is an appropriate fuel for a hydrogen bomb, but its use in this way is nonsensical for a couple of reasons. The biggest problem is that his design for the individual atomic bombs won't work at all. In the novel, each atomic bomb consists of two hemispheres of plutonium sitting next to each other, but not touching. He has simple dynamite placed next to the hemispheres, so that when the dynamite explodes, it will push the two halves of the plutonium sphere together, resulting in a critical mass, and achieving an fission explosion. But that is impossible. It is well known, and easily discovered that the Manhattan project knew that the gun design (using uranium) as used to bomb Hiroshima wouldn't work with plutonium. Plutonium reacts too fast to slam two subcritical parts together fast enough to produce an explosion. Even if done in the best way (Little Boy gun design), it wouldn't work. It would make a big fizzle (very nasty, but not an atomic blast). But Brown's design is laughably amateurish. My non-professional opinion is that even if he sets off the five devices simultaneously, it will achieve little more than a nasty release of radiation that might injure someone standing nearby. But the dynamite itself will present a greater danger. There will be some difficult cleanup, but that is all. The lithium deuteride won't make any difference at all. If a workable implosion device had been described, it is possible that a nearby quantity of lithium deuteride could boost the explosion, but I'm not sure if it would. Being blasted apart by the explosion works against achieving the goal of high pressure and temperature necessary to ignite the nuclear fuel. Ulam's great innovation was knowing that the x-rays which are released ahead of the pressure from a nuclear explosion could be used to create a plasma surrounding the fusion fuel, thus keeping it together and heating it at the same time. He even came up with the idea of a second "spark plug" of additional plutonium in the center of the fusion fuel which would ignite so that the fusion fuel would be subjected to pressure from both the inside and the outside, increasing yield. All this is well known to anyone with a library card and the inclination to check out books. I suggest the excellent books by Richard Rhodes.
I sincerely hope that Mr. Brown continues to refine his craft. Until he does, he will be limited to the niche of readers who are so desperate for a godly book that they will overlook significant deficiencies.