With the release of The Silent Service DLC for Command, I figured I’d talk about submarine fiction. Now, the genre includes traditional classics like Run Silent Run Deep, and of course, a submarine novel kickstarted the technothriller genre as we know it.
Submarine fiction is a sort of genre that’s interesting in the context of how it adapted to the post-USSR period. It was a very hard, very uphill struggle. Probably more so than any other subgenre of technothriller, because not that many countries even have subs, much less modern ones.
Small fry? You’d be lucky to get anything more than a Kilo or Type 209.
Nuclear submarines? Only six countries operate them, four are democracies, and three of the four are NATO members.
So the methods I’ve found authors use are:
- Give the enemy a “thingy”. That is, the weaker opponent has a submarine (or submarines) as well. Is it a Kilo/209? Is it an upgraded Kilo/209-style submarine? Is it a newer, quiet submarine?
- Make the story part of a big great-power conflict, in some form or another.
- Go full sci-fi or weird and make it unconventional in some form. Larry Bond’s Cauldron is a mild example of this, whereas Joe Buff‘s submarine novels are an extreme example.
- Finally-have a submarine that’s hijacked/hacked/rogue/stolen/otherwise in the hands of the antagonist. This is one of many examples, as is this.
Obviously, they can mix, these are not hard and fast categories by any means. The only thing that really feels “natural” is the great-power conflict, and that has its own issues and hangups. The others can still be done well. As with any genre, a skilled author can turn a questionable setup into a delight, while a bad author can get a story handed to them on a silver platter and mess it up. But the obvious handwaves and possible pitfalls are still there, and still clear.
An additional one that I think exists for submarines regardless of the time period is that they’re “all or nothing”. You can destroy individual protagonist tanks or aircraft easily enough, but, for the most part, either all the submarine’s crew makes it, or none of them do.
Submarine fiction is an interesting technothriller niche, that, thanks to the real exclusivity, seems to amplify the issues the genre has had. And that’s legitimately interesting to me.