Thrift Picks: Something’s Alive on the Titanic by Robert Sterling

Book cover via Amazon.
Book cover via Amazon.

A few months ago, one of our local vintage book stores closed down for good. Like most stores, they put their books on sale at discounted prices in order to liquidate their stock, and while going through what was left when I checked it out, I found Something’s Alive on the Titanic by Robert Serling. Naturally, my interest was piqued. I am obsessed with anything Titanic related, and even though I stopped researching and have since forgotten most of the facts I know years ago, I am hard pressed to pass up on fiction that involves the famed ship. If that alone wasn’t enough to make me pick it up, the tidbit on the second page was:

There was a man standing in the center of the room – only a silhouette at first, but becoming more distinct as Gillespie’s eyes adjusted to what his helmet light was illuminating.

 

A man, very definitely. Wearing the bridge coat of the Royal Merchant Marine. A black officer’s cap, with the White Star Insignia. Under the peaked cap was a face – square-jawed, stern, very British.

 

Now it was Gillespie who gasped.

 

On the right temple was a tiny black hole, jagged around the edges as if a bullet had penetrated there.

 

Into the oceanographer’s numbed mind came the realization that he was looking at William Murdoch, Titanic’s first officer.

 

Murdoch, who had been in charge of the bridge at 11:40 P.M., April 14, 1912.

 

Murdoch, who had given the fateful command – “Hard astarboard” – the command that turned the ship into the hidden ice spur that ripped out her guts in thirty seconds.

 

Murdoch, who, according to several eyewitnesses, had shot himself in the temple just before the giant liner sank.

 

The figure was shaking his head….

 

– Excerpt from opening pages of Something’s Alive on the Titanic

Something’s Alive on the Titanic has a bit of a split story line, with one part of the book taking place in 1975, and the other part taking place in 1995. Written by the late Robert Serling, who is, in fact, Rod Serling’s older brother, Something’s Alive on the Titanic plays off of the idea that Dr. Robert Ballard was not the first one to discover the final resting place of the Titanic. Instead, a team led by John Hawke, at the behest of code-breaker Derek Montague, departs on an expedition to retrieve treasure from the Titanic‘s watery grave after Montague discovers that a shipment from a smuggling ring under the guise of a salvage company by the name of Sovereign Metals.

A true product of its time, and remaining faithful to the time-period in which the story is set, one of the few things of note to make in regards to its characters is the absolute lack of a strong female presence. The two women that are present, especially Chaney in the 1975 portion of the book, are Mary Sue-esque and, without a doubt, sexualized. Another note to be made comes in the form of the male characters: they are portrayed as stereotypical, stubborn men that, despite being superstitious, are also skeptics. This manner of male character is more prominent in the second part of the book than the first.

The plot, on the other hand, was pretty stellar. In 1975, the expedition lacks the proper equipment to dive down into the depths of the Atlantic and explore the ship for extended periods of time. They make the most of what they do have, however. Intent on claiming the lost treasure, most of John Hawke’s crew show little regard for the fact that they are desecrating a grave: greed is, after all, the heart of all evil. While the Atlantic Ocean treats the crew well, the Titanic is anything but forgiving: the decrepit ship plays host to more than the relics of the souls that once stood upon its deck. Whatever that thing is, it doesn’t play nicely. In 1995, the US Navy gathers a crew to find out what exactly happened in 1975, and to complete the earlier expedition’s salvage mission.

Given the presence of a female in a heavily male dominated field, it goes without saying that there’s a bit of teasing and a bit of romance. That subplot is fairly minor and serves mostly to remind readers of a certain character’s penchant for being a total asshole and little more. There is also sex, briefly, but the review I’ve linked below does a far better job of describing that scene than I do.

Serling’s knowledge of the Titanic is actually pretty accurate, down to the fact that the fourth funnel on the ship was a fake, there was a shortage of lifeboats, and most of the lifeboats were dropped before they were filled. One reviewer on Goodreads states that “as an amateur Titanic expert (check out my A Night To Rememberfor my bona fides), [he] can tell you that you can actually learn a ton of arcane factoids. Heck, in the first ten pages or so, Serling delivers an enjoyable journey through the ship’s manifest, noting the inclusion of a motion picture, William Carter’s Renault (which Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet defiled in James Cameron’s film), and a heroic 719 cases of sundry liquor. He even touches on the legend of the mummy’s tomb.”

It isn’t very often that a book really draws me in, but that could be attributed to the fact that I no longer read as I used to. Serling’s prose kept me on the edge of my seat and at times, it even raised my heart rate a little. Rather than paint us an entire picture of the supernatural phenomena that takes place, he begins with little bits and pieces, crumbs if you will, until finally, you begin to question the sanity of the characters involved, whilst simultaneously hoping for the best.

Characters
Plot
Writing Style
Flow
Average

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