on 6 November 1997
I wanted to like this book, I really did, but found "The Last Ship" to be terribly 'overwritten'. The (barely) plausible plot is constantly buried under the authors ceaseless need to explain every act and conversation with a mind-boggling preface. It's as if the narrator/captain puts on his Socrates hat and weighs the very essence and meaning of life for perhaps a full page before allowing himself to say: "Right full rudder." About two thirds of the way through the book, the author finds he hasn't described a sex scene yet, so lets loose with a stunningly bad attempt to name all the girl parts, then the 'thrusting, throbbing, etc.' begins like a parody of a Penthouse Forum letter. And the ending came so weird and confusing, I was surprised only that it didn't surprise me at all.
on 10 July 1999
The plot of this book is nearly the same as Nevil Shute's "On The Beach", plus a little Twilight Zone, updated 40 years. Shute's classic also had the nuclear war, the surviving sub crew, the mysterious signal from the U. S. mainland while all other sources were silent, the overspreading fallout, the radioactive continents, the people vanished, and a crew which wanted to go home, even if it meant their death. Nevil Shute was a much better writer than Brinkley-- approximately 50% of this book was the daydreaming or posturing of the captain of the Nathan James, rambling on in philosophy in one-page paragraphs. Brinkley also misused some of his more abstruse words such as partrurient (whatever happened to the simple word "fertile"?). This book needed a thorough editing before it was published. Unlike "On The Beach," the captain emerges from this story as neither heroic nor brilliant. He foolishly pushes his ship through a nuclear winter to conserve fuel, almost killing his crew, compromises the dual key safeguards for his nuclear missles, and promulgates a double standard governing sexual relations between the men and women survivors of his crew, banishing one to certain doom for rape and yet pressuring all men to participate once they all reach safety. At the end of this book I had zero sympathy for any of the survivors. Brinkley's work also reads like a propaganda piece extolling the roles and rights of women to serve on warships, and damning those men with a differing point of view. Given what I have heard from dozens of male sailors of all ranks, it definitely raises a discerning reader's suspicions of the author's original reason for even writing this novel. One cannot erase the suspicion that some politically correct agenda was the motivation behind it. The whole book sounded downright phony compared to the sexually integrated reality of the Navy today
on 16 July 2013
This mammoth book follows the story of the officers and crew aboard the US Navy Destroyer the `Nathan James' in their journey to find safe haven after nuclear war. With 152 men and 26 women aboard the challenges they face are narrated by the Captain of the ship.
Brinkley has put together an epic story although it's difficult to say if the book is well written or not. The emotional turmoil of the captain is described at length with the most complex of language - I found myself reaching for the thesaurus on more than one occasion. Brinkley does go on and on.... and on about the seamen, their duty, the sea and the sky! While a very packed book, its slow going and a bit of a struggle at times.
Despite this Brinkley has produced a piece of work that earns its place amongst the best apocalyptic novels written; a challenging read but rewarding at the same time. If you're a fan of this genre then this book should on your list!
on 30 December 2014
I bought this book because I enjoyed the TV series. Unfortunately the two have almost nothing in common, the ship has the same name but the stories are totally different.
So I carried on reading anyway, it's a hard slog with far too much waffle from the captain. I continued because I wanted to know the fate of the crew, it was almost like the author realised he had written too much already and he ends the book speedily and without much thought.
On another note its a huge book with a tiny font and was not enjoyable to read on many levels!
This book was first published in 1988, and has recently been republished to coincide with the making of a series based on the book. The author served as a commissioned officer in the US Navy during World War II, and clearly he has carried his experiences over into this book, based on the first-person narrative of a captain of a US Navy destroyer.
The story follows the fictional USS Nathan James and narrates the impact on the captain and crew following a nuclear exchange. What happened in terms of political buildup to the exchange of nuclear weaponry is never really explicitly narrated, and that’s fair enough in the context of this book. What happened is not the issue; it happened, and it’s the aftermath that the story is about.
In Book I: The Island, the selection of an island, suitable for growing crops and survival of the crew of the Nathan James is narrated by the captain. I highlight this section of the book in my review because it is rather slow-moving and extremely introspective. But if you can manage to get to about page 126 in the book without being driven to despair, it gets miles better in the remaining 7 sections of the book. It is a long book, at over 600 pages, and there are a lot of times when you would like the captain to stop thinking, and just get on. But the book remains a tale told by the captain, and it is all his own viewpoint, so it’s fair enough that at times it seems very deeply introspective.
There are a lot of themes covered in the book; the immediate aftermath, the possibilities of other survivors, the decisions about where to go and why, the longer term issues of authority and governance over the crew. There are issues to be dealt with as the captain must strive to maintain the naval authority structure in a world where the Navy and the US Government may or may not still exist. And the author clearly wants to explore the issue of continuing population issues, as the captain spends a lot of time exploring the matter of the US Navy allowing women to serve, and there are women in the crew of the Nathan James.
This is a worthwhile read, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The captain’s musings at times get a little overblown, and his laudatory thoughts on the US Navy as a whole do get a little wearing at times. But behind the wordiness there is a good story, with real issues that would be faced in any apparent apocalyptic situation; the fact that it’s based in this story within the microcosm and artificial society of one naval ship makes for an interesting and different perspective.
on 25 October 2007
William Brinkley's novel is written from the point view of the Captain of the "Nathan James", the US navy destroyer that survives a nuclear war. Ignoring the glaring fact that a nuclear exchange between the USA and Russia with todays arsenals is at best unlikely, William Brinkley has written an interesting, although at times impenetrable, tale. He writes from the point of view of the captain of the ship, which I suspect gives him liberties at glossing over various technical details of the ship, although his knowledge of the destroyer is still impressive. Other technical flaws emerge when he talks of fallout, where a supposedly specialised radiation officer engages in conversations which detail that he knows little about fallout and its effects, even though the effects are very well known and researched. The main challenge in this book is deciphering the language Brinkley chooses to employ. He insists on using a cryptic and elongated vocabulary, mainly in the redundant paragraphs where the captain is crystalising his thoughts on the matter at hand, and I might add there are a lot of these thoughts. These sections break up the rhythm of the book and at times make the narrative almost impenetrable as you are left reaching for a thesaurus every few paragraphs or simply skipping them altogether. These drawbacks mask an otherwise interesting tale of men at sea in the most harrowing of circumstances. There is a sexually explicit sub-plot involving the captain during a romantic interlude with one of his crew which really detracts from the main narrative due to its sheer length, even though it does make sense in the scope of the character. In the end it is a difficult read but nonetheless enjoyable.
on 6 September 2014
Let’s start with one important statement. This book and the TV series of the same name have very little in common apart from the names of the vessels involved. The TV series is pretty good, and about a plague-like epidemic taking hold of the world and one crew trying to stay safe and find a cure. The novel, first published in 1988, is about a US Navy guided missile destroyer trying to find safe haven after a 1980s nuclear war.
This book isn’t a straightforward read because it seems written in an attempt to become another version of the great sea novel, with more than a nod towards the prose elegance of Melville and Conrad. Ultimately this doesn’t succeed - at times it’s over-written, and often too long. You might think that it would be a major trick to pull off a post-apocalyptic thriller in the style of Conrad. You’d be right. Brinkley might have had more success if he’d gone for short story length mimicking Conrad’s ‘Typhoon’ or similar tales rather than trying to write a massive tome to rival ‘Moby Dick’. The novel is weakest when it gets bogged down in excessive philosophising about man and the sea, but even these passages have their noble moments. Other parts feel like the author had kept a sea diary full of musings for much of his navy career and determinedly got them all into one novel.
Persist, and you’ll find that as a thriller, it works. Yes, there is a stretching vocabulary, but not too much harm there. You may speed-read through some sections, but there are puzzles to be unlocked, some good plot twists, and a satisfying ending. The sex scenes really don’t work, but they’re brief. Some scenes stretch credibility (could you really see Big Ben from Gravesend? Would any ship conceivably choose to sail down the English channel after Europe had been wiped out by nuclear blasts), but otherwise there is well-grounded technical detail, tension, and some moments of real gravity.
Where the Conradian style works best is where the narrative stays opaque at times about what is going on, and in the chilling descriptions of land masses following a nuclear exchange where we’re definitely in Heart of Darkness territory. The description of black snow is distinctly unnerving.
This is a book of the 1980s. There is much discussion of the novelty of having women at sea, for example. There is plenty of authentic detail about the planned deployment of nuclear weapons and their effects, and in this respect the book is less sci-fi and more a ‘what if’ projection of where the cold war could so easily have taken us. To 21st century readers this provides something of a shock, because we are used to post-apocalyptic fantasies where substantial parts of the population survive. This book makes it clear that everywhere north of the equator would have been uninhabitable within a matter of two or three weeks. The descriptions of the number of Hiroshima-equivalent events which could be triggered by a single warship or submarine are jaw-dropping, as is discussion of the planned level of redundancy – 20 warheads scheduled to land on New York when one would have been enough. These cold war facts have slipped from the public consciousness, and this book provides a useful reminder.
on 8 June 2016
This has the distinction of gathering the lowest score at one of the book clubs I attend, even less than Pride and Prejudice with Zombies.
That's possibly a little unfair, but it's a flawed and unusual book. Written in the style of a 19th century book, but set in relatively modern times, it's overlong, shifts style for no reason, has some very odd views concerning women, and some of the worst sex scenes committed to paper. The ending is ridiculous, and various other plot points stretch credibility.
Nevertheless, there's some decent moments of tension and humanity, and I enjoyed the general plot. It could have been so much better.
on 13 July 2015
The idea behind the book is sound but it bears no relation to the recent series except in token form.
Sadly the narrative descends in to page after page of waffle and the book suffers as a result. Its really sad because it could have been a great book. I guess its a poor relation to "Down to a sunless sea" and " On the beach" which are infinitely better reads.
on 21 August 2016
I admit that I only found out about this book after being introduced to the Last Ship Television TNT series via Entertainment Weekly magazine (back in June 2014).I was in the navy for 8.5 years and naturally I understand that this Last Ship; A Novel book by William Brinkley is obviously different from how the military works in real life (and I also understand that other people who have been in the military andor are still in are going to have different takes on both the tv show the Last Ship and this book). However, this book The Last Ship touches on areas/interests of navy life that are likely to occur. For instance, the narrator pretty much paints a picture of how many of the sailors have music interests as anyone else does: details are included how music tapes from Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Handel’s Messiah, rock, country, jazz, folk,The Beatles, Woody Guthrie, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston etc. A person is going to have to obviously not mind the time period because the narrator does mention music tapes, movie video cassettes, typewriter ribbons etc. Additionally, the time period that the book was written has to be considered because the narrator mentions notifying a character of Signalman Bixby to blinker the message (page 207, multiple online confirm the Signalman rating to have been discontinued).