Review: The Dragon in the Sea

dragon in the sea

nuclear missilenuclear missile

Two nuclear missiles
(2 out of 4 rating)

This is my second discount audiobook by Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. In this story, the western hemisphere is at war with a not-quite-specified coalition of Asian powers that includes Russia. Britain is a nuclear wasteland. The westerners need more fossil fuel, so they’ve been drilling secret underwater wells to steal oil from their enemy. Submarines retrieve this oil, but the last 20 or so subs that went out were destroyed. OK, excellent setup for a story, but it starts breaking down immediately.

The Spoiler Dragon

The 4 man crews of the submarines go through the most thorough background checks and interrogations possible. However, the Navy has determined (somehow) that the destroyed subs sent a location signal to their attackers, and that this was done by a crew member. So, Western Navy, your most closely inspected crews contain a minimum of 1 in 4 people who are not only traitors, but willing to die in order to betray you? Unless 1 in 3 of the enemy sailors is working for you, it doesn’t look like you’re going to win this conflict.

On top of that, the main character isn’t a regular submarine officer; he’s been planted on the sub by the government. However, he hasn’t been planted to find the traitor, instead he’s supposed to do a psychological assessment of the captain. At one point, he even uses the cover story of being a traitor-hunting security officer to cover up his real role as a psychologist. Western Navy, do you have a problem with priorities? The publisher’s marketing team can’t even buy into this; their blurb says his mission is to find the traitor.

So, the submarine faces a number of threats, as you’d expect. None of the threats are unreasonable, but none of them made me say “wow”, and my mind just couldn’t let go of the problems which I’ve mentioned above.

I’m tempted to read another Frank Herbert novel, The Green Brain, based on its marketing blurb. If I’d seen the same description for a book by an unknown author, I would have grabbed it right away, but after my last two Herbert audiobooks, I’m not sure I can tolerate a third.


  1. I can kind of imagine SFnal circumstances which allow for one in four of extraordinarily-screened people to be traitors, although the sounds of it suggest that those aren’t in play. (They pretty much all come down to subverting people after they’e been selected.)

    I imagine there might also be some mocking of the idea that there’s some infallible way to screen out people’s loyalties and motivations and all that, but again, that does sound like Herbert wasn’t going for that.

    Might need to give some time and other writers a chance before going to The Green Brain.

    1. I have another string of Indie SF stories which I’ll post next, possibly interspersed with some other sci-fi related postings.

      The ending / spy resolution of this book left me so underwhelmed, I didn’t even think about it when I was posting my review.

      The Spoiler DragonThe Spoiler DragonThe Spoiler Dragon

      They did catch a traitor on board, but his motivations were all over the place; I believe he had three, and I didn’t think the appropriate answer to any of them would have been to blow up himself and his best friends on a submarine. Also, they only caught him when he was on his deathbed from radiation received while saving the submarine, so this took away the emotion and outrage of catching a traitor who was trying to kill the crew.

  2. More Frank Herbert! Never read anything by him but Dune series – I’m interested to read about these other oddities.

  3. I haven’t even started reading the Dune series yet. But it is good to know what lies in the future if I decide to read more of his books.

  4. I love this story, but I’ve only read it in paper book form. I didn’t find it as messy when I read it. I’m not sure if that’s just remembering it badly though.

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