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Sunday, June 26, 2016
If It's Fiction, Suspend Disbelief
Our discussion of The Shipkiller, by Justin Scott, started with some questioning of the factual aspects of this thriller and ended with an opportunity to gain some new perspective. We noticed immediately that the only Book Club member who is currently involved with sailing and might give us valid critique or praise of the nautical terminology in the story, Ken, was absent from the meeting. Even without Ken, most of us agreed that we had neither learned about the nautical terms by researching every unfamiliar word nor minded suspending disbelief and skipping over the nautical terms and accepting their contributions to the story. Since the book had been published in 1978, the technology in the book might have become somewhat obsolete by now, anyway. The story seemed to appeal to most of those attending, as most had read the book. The experience of reading that book tends to be one of immersion and page turning to see what happens!
Criticism of the book started with Linda H. suggesting that it could have been edited more carefully. Lydia said she had noticed that although there was just a small amount of Arabic in the book, it was inaccurately presented. Linda B. expanded on the inaccuracy theme, saying that she had noticed that all the military information in the book was so inaccurate that she questioned all the sailing information. She said specifically that the sailor, Hardin, a civilian, had gathered army materials and that this wouldn't be possible. Dennis agreed that the story had some far-fetched aspects, starting with Hardin's anger about the super-tanker. Though what happened to Hardin and his wife, Carolyn, was indeed terrible, blaming it on the super-tanker Leviathan was unfounded. Dennis noted that the Leviathan was such a huge ship that everyone should understand, and anyone on the water should know, that it can't stop or change direction at all quickly and that staying out of its way would be of utmost importance to anyone remotely in its way. Again considering the size of Leviathan, Dennis said that it would have been unrealistic to plan to sink it with one device, even the Dragon. Marcia agreed that plotting to sink the Leviathan was not realistic. There was a David versus Goliath aspect to the story.
Some discussion praised the story. Cindy T. said that every ship has some vulnerability, and that the story showed that Hardin set up a 'perfect storm' to 'kill' the Leviathan. Cindy V. said that she thought arresting a ship was interesting and had researched it but not found much information. Shirley thought that Donner's change of heart was merited, because Donner's bosses had made it clear that he had no other choice, and Linda B. agreed. Linda B. also explained the potential impossibility of the Leviathan getting into the position it did after going around the cape and into the bay, by suggesting that the captain of the Leviathan, Ogilvy, had been shown to be highly skilled and have a lot of experience; so it was logical and perhaps part of the story and development of the Ogilvy character that it was his outstanding skill that allowed the ship to get into that vulnerable position. Cindy V. and I (Claudia) at first questioned why Hardin and the author kept calling the sailboat "The Swan," when Hardin had named it "Carolyn." Dennis informed us that 'Swan' was the type of boat it was, thus validating the many referrals in the book to 'The Swan.'
After we had questioned the editing and the facts in The Shipkiller, Frank gave us an explanation from the bookseller's viewpoint. He said that the book probably originated by the author, who had written and cowritten numerous successful thrillers, suggesting to the publisher that he would write a story that would combine Moby Dick, Jaws, a small sailboat and a giant tanker. The publisher would have been delighted and would have set a quick deadline. Frank said that the many comments listed on the advertising pages of a book such as The Shipkiller are written by other well-known authors to sell the book, and that this is all part of the publishing business. Because the book was fiction (a crucial aspect of the bookseller's point of view), time and money were not wasted on careful editing. There was no Internet to search when this book was published! Frank suggested that when we read a thriller, we suspend disbelief and just enjoy it as if it were creating an alternative realistic but fictitious universe. He reminded us that if the author had explained a lot of detailed information, the book would have been boring instead of thrilling. Frank assured us that nonfiction is more thoroughly edited.