Michael Havens's Reviews > The Last Ship

The Last Ship by William Brinkley
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May 20, 09

Recommended for: THose who like Apocalyptic Literature
Read in May, 2009

I have to admit that William Brinkley's 'The Last Ship' is hard to rate. I I were to have discretion, I would rate this hovering between three and four stars, but to be liberal, I'll give it a four. There is something ambitious as lirerature in this work of apocalypse. The story of the un-named commander of the destroyer, the Nathan James, has been discibed as a type od 'Heart of Darkness' of Joseph Conrad fame. The Nathan James, the seemingly only ship besides a Russian submarine, the Pushkin, to survive a nuclear holocause, takes an understandingly painful and torurous journey in an attempt to find a new home admist the now contaminated world of hydrogen radiation. What he relates to the reader is a travel diary off sorts to the plight of the crew, which runs the gambit between food and fuel shortages, relations between male and female crew (the book, written in 1988, forsees a greater role of women in the military, only about a decade behind the reality), of which the Nathan James has been constructed for the inclusion of both genders, insanity, mutiny, and even serial killings. In a sense, the Nathan James, a mass killer in its own right, contains in one ship the whole issues that plague present day Earth, our own ship in the galaxy. There is even a Jesuit priest, who represents not only religion, but also a logical challenge and companionship for the captian's ideas and strategy towards the well being of the community of sailors under him. In the end, it is not only a new island that is found that could possibly safely be inhabited by the crew, but also could be a place where a population growth can occur, through the controversial means of polygamy. It shows convincingly that those who survive nuclear holocaust suffer as great, and perhaps morally greater, than those who die as a result of radiation poisoning.
All of this is done in an admirally literary style, but here is also its problematic aspect as well. Brinkley tries to be literary, and I do admire him for it. But it doesn't quite hit the mark. It is close, but with chapters that by and large begins with numerous and long narrations of life and thinking amoung the crew, which worked in the earlier chapters, but begins to bog down the work as it goes along. Also problematic is the overuse of vocabulary, feeling as if Brinkley overused a Thesaurus. We know and understand that the captain is of some academic acumin, aware and even quoting from history and literature. But, Brinkley includes such vocabulary in his internal thinking, while he is supposedly writing this as a journal to someone, as he references some sort of outside reader, as if hoping that someone other than himself reads it. This proves awkward and clunky as a narrative, and not only slows down the reading, but makes it less easy to come to terms with Thomas (the last name is all that we are given the narrator) as a man character wise, which is rescued somewhat by the interactions in the dialogues with his crew.
This is a good work as a testement to the ultimate holocaust, as between Selman's, the captain's uility science officer, with his cold and calculating, and yet not impersonal readings of radiation levels, to the challenges and burden the women find themselves in in facing their part in either continuing the human race, or being instruments in its extinction, to the Jesuits and even the captains struggles and philosophical/spiritual conflicts of facing the uncertain and un-varifiable possibility that they and a crew of about a hundred Russian sailors may be the only ones left on the planet. The only wish is that the narrative strategy would have had more varience and unobstructive vocabulary.
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