“Ice Station Nautilus” by Rick Campbell is a fast-paced military thriller involving a cat and mouse game between Russian and American submarines. Readers will likely make the inevitable comparison with Tom Clancy’s novel, “The Hunt For Red October,” but fear not, this story holds its own.
The plot revolves around a collision between the newest American and Russian submarines, the USS North Dakota and K-535 Yury Dolgoruky. The Russian sub is being deployed on its first patrol while America’s newest fast attack submarine, North Dakota, is assigned to trail it and collect intelligence. Because of their close proximity the subs collide, stranding both underneath the polar ice cap.
The Americans immediately set up a rescue mission, sending a new submarine and a SEAL team to establish an ice camp, Ice Station Nautilus. The Russians also send men and material, ostensibly to rescue their own men, but a rogue general orders a Russian Special Forces team to take over the American base camp and the American sub, leaving no survivors or traces of their actions.
Campbell balances well the military jargon and technology. Since the author is a retired Navy commander, having served for 20 years on four nuclear powered submarines, the descriptions and technology are very believable without being overly detailed. Readers will get an up close and personal view of what it is like to be trapped on a submarine.
If readers were to do a fact check would they see the authenticity in the story?
“Yes,” Campbell said. “Submarines in this area cannot see each other. They make educated guesses about range, course and speed. They will never get intentionally close on purpose.
“I thought of the different parameters that can make something go wrong. My editor once told me ‘true life does not have to make sense, but fiction does.’ I thought how could two subs collide? Knowing it had to be accidental, I put in the book that if one changes speed or direction a collision could occur. Additionally, I had to consider how the American sub would get trapped under the ice. Especially since submarines under the ice constantly track the depth of the ice they’re under, documenting the location of ice thin enough to break through, and also looking for leads and polynas, which are small open spaces between the ice floes.”
Furthermore, he stated, “I did my due diligence with the research. In 2009 I had an opportunity to go to an ice camp, so in writing the story I knew what it looked like and how it operated. I also flew out to San Diego to view all the rescue equipment and was able to speak with a rescue crew.”
But even more interesting is how Campbell shows the political struggles between Russia and the U.S. Both sides realize that whoever reaches the sunken subs first will be able to board the other country’s submarine and get their latest weapon and tactical systems technology. The USS North Dakota is the first, third flight Virginia class submarine, with lots of new technology, while the Russian sub, Yuriy Dolgorukiy, is their latest ballistic missile submarine.
Through his main character, National Security Adviser Christine O’Connor, the author is able to give readers a world’s eye view of the conflict. She is a female version of the famous character Jack Ryan. Although not a special forces operator nor “Superwoman,” she is intelligent, determined, gritty, not afraid to get her hands dirty, will engage in a battle and has a get even type of mentality.
This novel is a riveting read of how conflicts can arise. It is fast-paced and suspenseful. With four submarines, torpedo battles, undersea rescues and SEAL shootouts with Spetznaz, readers will be on the edge of their seats.