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Posted on Feb 22, 2022 in Books and Movies, Front Page Features

David Poyner’s Latest Book ‘Arctic Sea’ Updates the Modern Techno-Thriller. Book Review

David Poyner’s Latest Book ‘Arctic Sea’ Updates the Modern Techno-Thriller. Book Review

Ray Garbee

Arctic Sea.  Author: David Poyer. Publisher: St. Martin’s Press. Price $28.99

Arctic Sea is the latest installment in the 22-book series following the fictional exploits of U.S. Navy officer Dan Lenson.  If you’ve not read the prior books in the series, a brief recap of this near future history has resulted in the US and China having fought a short, nasty war. Both China and Russia are pushing for greater control of the world’s waters, including the thawing Arctic Ocean. On top of that, a pandemic is afflicting the world’s population and political differences in the United States have erupted into open conflict with an autocratic Federal administration intent on retaining power.

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If that recap comes across as horribly bleak, well, it’s tough to characterize this as the ‘feel good’ novel of the year. However, the book true to the events of the prior novels and Poyer conveys a plausible future in line with predictive science fiction works of the past. Reading Arctic Sea, I’m reminded of H.G. Well’s novel The Shape of Things to Come. The reader will find many of the narrative threads from the prior novels carried forward through this novel. The central protagonist of the book remains Dan Lenson, a veteran naval officer nearing the end of his career. But nearing the end is not the end and Dan has another set of adventures, this time involving the titular Arctic Sea.

The book feels like it is teetering on the edge of being science fiction, but that may be a reflection of both the pace of technological change and the increasing social tension in the world. A major thread in the story explores how artificial intelligence (“A.I.”) and machine-learning has the potential to change decision-making and operations. That may sound dry, but the ways in which that A.I. is used and perceived by people is an important thread. The book also explores the geography of the Arctic Ocean, and gets the reader thinking about that place at ‘the top of the world’.

UUV like the Snakehead are clear inspiration for elements of Arctic Sea. Photo By: Rich Allen/U.S. Navy

Balancing the ‘techie’ feel of the story is a look at how the aftermath of a war impacts the human aspects of government and life. Modern life rests on a fragile foundation of interconnected services. Poyer shows what can happen when those services are suppressed or destroyed. It can be a short trip from our comfortable modern world, to a place that feels almost medieval in safety and security.

It’s not always a pretty story, and at times I found aspects of the story evocative of dystopian video games like the Fallout series or even the Terminator movies. That’s not meant as a dismissive critique, if anything I mean quite the opposite. At one point I found myself muttering, “Do you want Skynet? Because this seems like how you get Skynet!”

Like H.G. Wells more than a century ago, Arctic Sea has David Poyer taking modern trends and projecting them into the near future. I see outcomes of predictions from more academic works like A.I. at War  or Cyberspace in Peace and War reflected in various threads of the novel. Some of the society conflict and plot aspects have that Law and Order ‘ripped from the headlines’ feel to them. We can debate whether those outcomes are plausible or even desirable, but they certainly drive the plot along. In several ways, Arctic Sea can certainly stand as a stark warning of the shape of things to come.

Readers who have stuck with the series will be rewarded with the continued activities and evolution of the characters. New readers will enjoy the read, but you might wish to backtrack through the earlier novels first (at least go back to The Cruiser, if not to the very beginning.) It’s not always the most cheerful of reads, but it’s an engaging read that will leave the reader with much to ponder.

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