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Literature / Pacific Vortex!

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Pacific Vortex! is an early novel by Clive Cussler. It was published in 1983 as the sixth book in the Dirk Pitt Adventures series, although under the premise of being the first Pitt book written by Cussler and thus the franchise's seminal episode. Cussler attributes its publishing to a great deal of pressure from his friends, family and publisher, and considers it somewhat of a curiosity among his works.


A young U.S. Air Force and National Underwater and Marine Agency officer named Dirk Pitt is enjoying a lazy day on a secluded Oahu beach at Ka'ena Point when he spots a bright yellow container just past the breakers. After catching it in a dangerous swim, Pitt discovers it is the last message of the USS Starbuck, the Navy's last high-tech submarine, which disappeared on the sea in strange circumstances. After being revealed that the submarine fell prey of the "Pacific Vortex", an area of the ocean north of the Hawaiian Islands where ships have been vanishing for more than 30 years, Pitt will be involved in a government project to recover the submarine. He will have to face deep sea mysteries, ghosts of the past, strange intelligences, and worse than all, love.

Despite its doubtful canon status, the book was later welded to the series's (admittedly loose) continuity in the 2001 book Valhalla Rising.


This book provides examples of:

  • Aquatic Mook: Delphi's mooks are men surgically modified to be able to breathe underwater who wield small Air Guns and wear no more gear than green shorts.
  • Ambiguous Situation: Pitt acusses Delphi of brainwashing his men into obedience, and later the baddie stares deeply at Pitt's eyes with his own yellow eyes in what Pitt calls hypnosis. It's unknown whether Delphi was really attempting to hypnotize Pitt or he was just very angry and trying to psych him out.
  • Artificial Gill: Delphi's mooks are surgically equipped with artifical gills invented by Moran's scientists, which allow them to breathe for a time underwater without any heavier gear. The things are described as apparently small devices grafted to the sides of their chests.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Delphi's men carry their Roblemann artificial gills grafted to the sides of their ribcages. In real life, if it was needed to surgically attach such gadget to a human respiratory system, it would be smarter to place it in the user's neck, not in his torso, as a graft placed between the ribs would probably interfere with the chest muscle movement needed to breath.
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  • Author Appeal: The sea, ancient archaeology, old cars, beautiful women, chances to wear little to no clothing in front of people... Yep, a Clive Cussler work.
  • Big Bad: Delphi, also known as Frederick Moran Jr.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Delphi is killed and his organization is destroyed, effectively ending the Pacific Vortex, but Summer is dead too, leaving Dirk heartbroken.
  • Canon Discontinuity: The events in the book are implied to have happened in Broad Strokes after Pitt's children reveal themelves in Valhalla Rising, because Pitt and Summer never have sex in their limited screentime together in the book. If not, the storyline would gain completely different overtones, as in every scene in which he could had gotten Summer pregnant, one of the two was unconscious all the time. One possibility out of two: when Dirk carried Summer back to his hotel room and joked about raping her while she was out cold, he wasn't joking; or, alternately, when Dirk fell unconscious in Summer's room in the submerged island, she quickly raped him before alerting anyone. In hindsight, considering that Pitt's love interest in Dragon has sex with him explicitly while he is sleeping, those grim speculations might be exactly what Cussler meant about Pitt and Summer...
  • Collapsing Lair: Kanoli ends being destroyed at the end.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Adrian Hunter and Summer have one in order to remove the former from Summer's Honey Trap on Pitt, or at least the guy she thinks Pitt is, though it happens entirely offscreen.
  • The Dragon: Though not onscreen due to how little she actually appears, it's assumed that Summer is Delphi's second in command. At least until her High-Heel–Face Turn.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Despite its posterior release, this was the first Dirk Pitt story written by Cussler, and thus features a number of unusual elements compared to the posterior continuity. For instance, Pitt uses an anachronistic Mauser C-96 of all things instead of his classic Colt 45, while Giordino loses a pinkie that is never mentioned again (except by the next book in the series, The Mediterranean Caper). Also, while the book features a character named Leigh Hunt(er) as accustomed, but he is an important, alive character and not a background note as in later Hunts.
  • Excited Show Title!
  • Expy:
    • Burdette Denver is acknowledged in-universe to be one to his cousin Rudi Gunn, and he fulfills the same role. Does not qualify out of universe, interestingly, because the character of Gunn didn't exist yet when the story was written, forcing the reader to trust Pitt's word when he states Denver is a Gunn lookalike.
    • Similarly in-universe, Orl Cinana is noted to be another to Pitt himself, which proves to be a plot point.
    • In a ship matter, the Martha Ann was clearly the prototype of the Oregon in Cussler's mind. She only lacks her weapon system and magnetohydrodinamic engines.
  • Finger in a Barrel: Near the end, Al Giordino sacrifices a pinkie to prevent Delphi from shooting Dirk. Interestingly, this instance features both the real life and the TV effects of the trope: it destroys his finger (albeit in a unrealistically clean fashion) but also causes the gun to explode and kill the gunman.
  • From Dress to Dressing: After the last battle in the crumbling mountain, Pitt bandages Giordino's wounded hand with his own swimming trunks, thus remaining naked until they are rescued.
  • General Ripper: Admiral Leigh Hunter is a Navy example.
  • Hard-Drinking Party Girl: Rather extreme example with Adrian Hunter, who is basically a NEET who explicitly only lives to party and get around.
  • High-Heel–Face Turn: Summer is the only female member of Delphi's band, and she's naturally in love with Dirk.
  • Honey Trap: Summer was one for Pitt who she believed to be Orl Cinana. Pitt notes it not to be a particulary well set one, but it actually works nicely, and it is only her lack of subtlety at climax what foils the plan.
  • Hollywood Tactics: Both the bad and good guys fall on this. Kanoli's general strategy is composed of just creating artificial mist and sending an enormously huge but poorly equipped board party in the hopes of subduing their crews by surprise and sheer numbers. At the end of the day, they only succeed at making the Martha Ann retreat because her crew, being barely better equipped and obviously much less numerous, cannot repel a boarding party of that size.
  • Hot-Blooded: Paul Boland, much to Pitt's chagrin.
  • Loincloth: The standard attire of Delphi's men is either this or shorts, depending on the scene. This isvaguely justified because they live under the sea and have to dive quite often, but it is notable that they don't bother with protective gear or even diving fins (even Summer seems to favor the minimum amount of clothing possible while in Kanoli).
  • Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter: Summer again.
  • The Mole: Orl Cinana
  • Oddly Small Organization: Inverted. For such a necessarily secretive organization like Delphi's, it has quite impressive reserves stationed on Kanoli: only their first boarding party is composed by over 200 guys. Where and how you can maintain such an army under the sea is brought up as a point, but never answered comfortably.
  • The Place: In the Spanish edition, the book is renamed The Pacific's Triangle.
  • Prequel: Pacific Vortex was the first book written in the saga, but was released sixth. Cussler actually did not want to ever publish it and had to be insisted to do so.
  • Really Gets Around: Adrian Hunter is considered, either literally or figuratively, to be a nymphomaniac. Nonetheless she only lives to party, and is implied to be a NEET who hangs around with her father to have chances to get guys.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Although Summer saves Pitt's life multiple times, she chooses to die with her father at the end.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Lieutenant Marsh.
  • Self-Disposing Villain: Delphi blows half his face off trying to shoot Dirk. Of course at the time he was already fatally wounded by his Collapsing Lair.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: Delphi and his father. It isn't clear whether they are real gold eyes or just contact lenses as Pitt says.
  • Supervillain Lair: Delphi's Kanoli, an underwater mountain.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Burdette Denver to Gunn, which is partially explained because they are cousins.
  • Tap on the Head
  • Underwater Base: Kanoli, though a more realistic example than most fictional representations, as it is essentially an Elaborate Underground Base which just happens to be underwater.
  • The Vamp: Summer. Unlike most examples, she is succesful in seducing the hero, which is especially surprising given her very amateurish take on the job. Only for her to fall in love with him, however.