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Literature / Raise the Titanic!

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Raise the Titanic! is an early novel by Clive Cussler, the third entry in the Dirk Pitt Adventures series and his first bestseller. It was first published in 1976, a full nine years before the wreck of the RMS Titanic was discovered, and as such, the plot unintentionally takes a few liberties with the plausibility of salvaging the doomed ocean liner (until the wreck was found, most experts assumed it remained intact after sinking rather than breaking in two).

Dr. Gene Seagram, top scientist for a heavily-funded top secret government think tank, designs a defense system that would make it impossible for Russian missiles to hit any target in the continental United States, rendering the ICBM obsolete and shifting the balance of world power decisively in America's favor. Unfortunately the device will only run on some Unobtanium, the only known supply of which went to the bottom of the ocean on April 15th, 1912 during the sinking of the Titanic. There's only one thing to be done...

Unfortunately, the Russians have caught wind of the true motivation behind the Americans' attempt to find and salvage the Titanic, and they're not exactly happy about it. Partly because the ore in question was originally mined in secret from territory that Russia had a claim to at the time, but mostly due to the aforementioned balance of power. They set out to sabotage the operation with the aim of reclaiming the stolen ore, or at least denying possession of it to their enemy.

The book was a notable success, launching Cussler's writing career (the first with his trademark Distant Prologue). There was also a film made which is far more infamous and far less successful. The raising sequence is still worth a look.

One of Cussler's last books, The Titanic Secret (co-authored with Jack Du Brul), serves as a prequel to the story. Years after his adventure on the Titanic, Dirk Pitt is given a journal written by private detective Isaac Bell (hero of several other Cussler books). It gives details on the discovery of the Byzanium and its connection with the Titanic.

This book provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The novel is set in a then-future 1987.
  • Awful Wedded Life: The Seagrams are miserable with each other. Gene is obsessed with his research while his wife is tired of being second fiddle. Pitt feels vaguely bad about cuckolding him before realizing that his near-madness is too intense to even care much.
  • Ax-Crazy: Gene Seagram when he learns the byzanium was never even on the Titanic.
  • Big Bad: Andre Prevlov
  • Bookends:
    "He came from the mists and he returned to the mists," Koplin said, his mind drifting back to his first meeting with Pitt.
  • Canon Discontinuity: After the Titanic was discovered in real life to have broken in half, and that raising it was impossible, the whole incident was erased from canon.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: It turns out the byzanium was never on the Titanic in the first place. The paranoid Brewster buried it with a fellow miner in England but afraid to tell anyone about it point blank. Pitt notes that had Brewster been more up front and/or the ship hadn't sunk, the ore would have been found earlier. But the sinking and his cryptic clues caused everyone to make the same wrong conclusions and go to the trouble raising the wreck instead of finding the burial vault.
  • Crazy-Prepared:
    • The American ship that carried the byzanium in 1912, a three-masted steamer under the command of Lieutenant Pratt, is attacked by a French steam cutter without any flag, obviously to kill the crew and steal the cargo. However, Pratt's ship has a five-inch concealed under a fake deckhouse and fires back, eventually sinking the French ship, although taking water herself.
    • The Russian spy ship Mihail Kurkov, whose cover is that of an oceanographic research vessel, hiddes a massive Stoski missile. They never get to fire it because the Americans are even more prepared and have a submarine nearby.
  • Dated History: This story assumes the Titanic sank as a single piece, remaining intact enough to be salvaged. In Cussler's defense, this was the official position on the sinking until the ship was actually found, which was in 1985, almost 10 years after the book was written.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: It's revealed that Prevlov's aide, Marganin was killed in a tanker explosion three years earlier. A CIA officer was altered to look maimed by the explosion and was "discovered" with an acute case of amnesia. Not only did the Soviets restore his looks but educated him on his "history," brushing off any inconsistent behavior as after-effects of the accident. Prevlov himself gives props to how brilliant this was.
  • Deflector Shields: The Sicilian Project, for which the titular mission is launched.
  • Despair Event Horizon: The crew of the Deep Fathom thought they had been abandoned to die when in fact said abandonment was a necessary element of Pitt's rescue plan. Unfortunately none of the radio communication equipment was in any sort of functional shape.
  • Dub Name Change: The Spanish translation of the book changed the Navy SEAL to an unit named MAT, even tweaking the whole paragraph so the pun about seals was deleted. A smart reader will deduce this was done so the acronym's meaning would be kept (sea, air and land to mar, aire y tierra), yet, by some reason, the new word is never stated to be an acronym and no mention to sea, air and land is made at all in this version.
  • Emasculated Cuckold: Gene’s failure and obsession are symbolically consummated when Pitt celebrates their victory over the Russians by banging his wife. He goes completely insane shortly thereafternote .
  • Flechette Storm: Pitt reveals he carried a Stoner pistol, which according to him shoots a cloud of tiny needlelike flechettes.
  • Graceful Loser: Although Prevlov loses his cool a few times in the climax, when he finally realizes how badly he's been Out-Gambitted he accepts it rather gracefully. Admittedly he'd been offered the chance to defect and continue to live a relatively comfortable life in America, which no doubt softened the blow of defeat a bit.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight:
    "Brewster filled the grave with the ore. Anyone except a professional mineralogist would have simply dug through it and finding nothing in the coffin but bones, would have walked off and left it."
  • Humiliation Conga: Prevlov tries to inflict this on Dana by forcing her to strip in front of the NUMA excavation team. It doesn't exactly work the way he planned it out.
  • Karma Houdini: Andre Prevlov's ultimate fate ends up being forced to defect to the United States.
  • Love Triangle: Between Gene Seagram, his wife Dana and Dirk Pitt.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: Byzanium.
  • The Mole: Ben Drummond and Sam Merker are actually mercenaries currently under the employ of Soviet intelligence. On the other side, Prevlov's second-in-command is actually a surgically altered American agent who had infiltrated Soviet intelligence.
  • Out-Gambitted: A double version: Pitt had secretly allowed a team of Navy SEALs to board the Titanic to hold off the inevitable Russian attack. What Pitt never expected was for the Soviets to board right in the eye of the hurricane with the SEALs (down in a lower deck) unaware. Luckily, Pitt is able to alert them as Prevlov realizes too late how his men are outmanned and outgunned.
    • Also happens to Prevlov as he realizes how from the start, he was set up by his own aide who was secretly a U.S. spy.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Deliberately invoked as Silver and Gold are Drummer and Merker, fraternal twins and Soviet spies. When Sandecker notes it must have been an easy case of one twin leading to the other, Pitt corrects him as the two were smart enough to ensure they were almost total opposites in personality and rarely hung out together so folks would never connect them. Indeed, if not for how Drummer was going crazy when Merker's life was in danger, Pitt might never have made the connection.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: Prevlov forces Dana to strip, but she puts up a defiant stance.
  • Spotting the Thread: A great scene has Pitt expertly explaining how he figured out the various clues to the identities of the Soviet spies on the NUMA team: He was onto Drummer for a while for always being on his own a lot and that it was when Drummer was on duty whenever a signal was going out. When Drummer was going wild over a submarine being lost, Pitt figured out that his fraternal twin was one of the three men on board. Since one was eight years older than Drummer and the other was Mexican, that left Merker.
  • The Stoic: Captain Prevlov tries to be this really hard. He is usually successful.
  • Title Drop:
    "Yes, by God!" Seagram said, his voice suddenly hard and determined. "We raise the Titanic!"
  • Unobtanium: The ultra-rare byzanium, the only known deposit of which is on a remote Russian Arctic island, had been mined out in the early 20th century, and the entire output shipped out on a certain ocean liner to the United States.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The main plot is set in 1987.
  • Vehicle Title
  • Wicked Cultured: Prevlov
  • Worthless Treasure Twist: When they finally reach the ship's vaults everyone is stunned to discover the byzanium isn't there, the boxes filled with worthless rocks. A few weeks later, Pitt brings them to a cemetery in England as it turns out that Brewster hid the ore in the burial vault of one of his fellow miners. Pitt notes that had Brewster been less paranoid in his clues, they would have figured it out but the sinking caused everyone to jump to the same conclusion about the ore being on the ship.