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Trojan Odyssey by Clive Cussler


Rating: (Mildly Recommended)


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Readers who love the Cussler formula will not come away disappointed from reading his latest offering, Trojan Odyssey. For the rest of us, reading Trojan Odyssey is like watching a B-movie: sometimes pleasurable, and once is always enough. Here’s an excerpt, Chapter 3, (pp. 44-52):

The NUMA Headquarters building rose thirty stories beside the east bank of the Potomac River overlooking the Capitol. Its computer network on the tenth floor looked like a soundstage from a Hollywood science fiction movie. The remarkable setting was the domain of Hiram Yaeger, NUMA's chief computer wizard. Sandecker had given Yaeger free rein to design and create the world's largest library on the sea, without interference or budget restraints. The amount of data Yaeger had accumulated, assembled and cataloged was massive, covering every known scientific research study, investigation and analysis, dating from the earliest ancient records to the present. There was none like it anywhere in the world.

The spacious setting was open. Yaeger felt that, unlike most government and corporate computer centers, cubicles were a nemesis to efficient work habits. He orchestrated the vast complex from a large circular console set on a raised platform at its center. Except for a conference room and the bathrooms, the only enclosure was a transparent circular tube the size of a closet that stood off to one side of an array of monitors spread around Yaeger's console.

Never quite making the transition from hippie to pin-striped suit, Yaeger still dressed in Levi's with matching jacket and very old, worn cowboy boots. His graying hair was pulled back in a ponytail and he peered at his adored monitors through granny glasses. Peculiarly, the NUMA computer wizard did not lead the life he exhibited in his appearance.

Yaeger had a lovely wife who was an acclaimed artist. They lived on a farm in Sharpsburg, Maryland, where they raised horses. Their two daughters attended private school and were making plans to attend the college of their choice after graduation. Yaeger drove an expensive V-12 BMW to and from NUMA headquarters while his wife preferred a Cadillac Esplanade to haul the girls and their friends to school and parties.

Intrigued by the urn that had been air-shipped from Captain Barnum on Sea Sprite, he lifted it out of its box and set it in the tubular enclosure a few feet from his leather swivel chair. Then he punched in a code on his keyboard. In a few moments the three-dimensional figure of an attractive woman wearing a floral-patterned blouse with matching skirt materialized in the chamber. A creation of Yaeger's, the ethereal lady was an image of his own wife and was a talking and self-thinking computerized manifestation that had a personality all its own.

"Hello, Max," greeted Yaeger. "Ready to do a little research?"

"I'm at your beck and call," Max replied in a husky voice.

"You see the object I placed at your feet?"

"I do."

"I'd like you to identify it with an approximate date and culture."

"We're doing archaeology now, are we?"

Yaeger nodded. "The object was found in a coral cavern on Navidad Reef by a NUMA biologist."

"They could have done a better job of dressing it up," Max said dryly, looking down at the encrusted urn.

"It was a rush job."

"That's obvious."

"Circulate through university archaeological data networks until you find a close match."

She looked at him slyly. "You're coercing me into a criminal act, you know."

"Hacking into other files of historical purposes is not a criminal act."

"I never fail to be impressed with the way you legitimize your nefarious activities."

"I do it out of sheer benevolence."

Max rolled her eyes. "Spare me."

Yaeger's index finger touched a key, and Max slowly disappeared as though she was in a state of vaporization while the urn sank into a receptacle beneath the floor of the tube.

In that instant the blue phone amid a row of colored receivers buzzed. Yaeger held the earpiece against his ear as he continued typing on his keyboard. "Yes, Admiral."

"Hiram," came the voice of Admiral James Sandecker, "I need the file on that floating monstrosity that's moored off Cabo San Rafael in the Dominican Republic."

"I'll bring it right up to your office."


James Sandecker, age sixty-one, was doing push-ups when Yaeger was ushered into the office by the admiral's secretary. A short man a few inches over five feet, he had a thick carpet of red hair matched by a red Vandyke beard. He glanced up at Yaeger through cool assertive blue eyes. A health addict, he jogged every morning, worked out in the NUMA gym every afternoon and ate vegetarian. His only vice was a penchant for huge custom cigars, rolled to his special order. A longtime member of the Beltway crowd, he had built NUMA into the most efficient bureaucracy in government. Though most presidents he had served under during his long term as director of NUMA did not find him a team player, his impressive record of achievement and admiration by Congress assured him of a lifetime job.

He literally jumped to his feet as he motioned Yaeger to a chair across from his desk that had once belonged in the captain's cabin of the French luxury liner Normandie before it burned in New York Harbor in 1942.

They were joined by Rudi Gunn, Sandecker's deputy director of the agency. Gunn was less than an inch taller than the admiral. A highly intelligent individual and a former commander in the navy who had served under Sandecker, Gunn stared at the world through thick-lensed horn-rim glasses. Gunn's main job was to oversee NUMA's many scientific ocean projects operating around the world. He nodded at Hiram and sat down in an adjacent chair.

Yaeger half stood and laid a thick folder in front of the admiral. "Here is everything we have on the Ocean Wanderer"

Sandecker opened the folder and stared at the plans for the luxury hotel that was designed and constructed as a floating resort. Self-contained, it could be towed to any one of several exotic locations throughout the world, where it would be moored for a month until it was hauled to its next picturesque site. After a minute of studying the specifications, he looked up at Yaeger, his expression grim. "This thing is a catastrophe waiting to happen."

"I have to agree," said Gunn. "Our engineering staff carefully scrutinized the interior structure and came to the conclusion that the hotel was inadequately designed to survive a violent storm."

"What brought you to that conclusion?" asked Yaeger innocently.

Gunn stood and leaned over the desk, unrolling plans of the anchor cables that were attached to pilings driven into the seabed to anchor the hotel. He pointed with a pencil at the cables where they were secured to huge fasteners beneath the lower floors of the hotel. "A strong hurricane could rip it off its moorings."

"According to the specs, it's built to withstand one-hundred-and-fifty-mile-an-hour winds," pointed out Yaeger.

"Not the winds we're concerned about," said Sandecker. "Because the hotel is moored out to sea instead of firmly embedded on hard ground, it's at the mercy of high waves that could build up as they approach shallow water and beat the structure to pieces, along with all the guests and employees inside."

"Wasn't any of this taken into consideration by the architects?" asked Yaeger.

Sandecker scowled. "We pointed out the problem to them, but were ignored by the founder of the resort corporation who owns it."

"He was satisfied that an international team of marine engineers pronounced it safe," added Gunn. "And because the United States has no jurisdiction over a foreign enterprise, it was out of our hands to interfere with its construction."

Sandecker put the specifications back in the file and closed it. "Let us hope the hurricane building off West Africa will either bypass the hotel or fail to build to a Category Five with winds exceeding a hundred and fifty miles an hour."

"I've already alerted Captain Barnum," said Gunn, "who is supporting the Pisces coral investigation not far from the Ocean Wanderer, to keep a wary eye on any hurricane warnings that might put them in the path of a coming storm."

"Our center in Key West is watching the birth of one now," said Yaeger.

"Keep me informed as well," advised Sandecker. "The last thing we need is a double disaster in the making."


When Yaeger returned to his computer console, he found a green light blinking on the panel. He sat down and typed in the code that prompted Max to put in an appearance, along with the urn that rose from inside the floor.

When she fully appeared, he asked, "Have you analyzed the urn from PiscesY'

"I have," Max answered without hesitation.

"What did you find out?"

"The people on board Sea Sprite did a poor job of scouring away the growth," Max complained. "The surface still had a calcareous scale adhering to it. They didn't even bother to clean the interior. It was still filled with accretions. I had to apply every imagery system I could tap to get a relevant reading. Magnetic resonance imaging, digital X rays, 3-D laser scanner and Pulse-Coupled Neural Networks, whatever it took to obtain decent image segmentation."

"Spare me the technical details," Yaeger sighed patiently. "What are the results?"

"To begin with, it is not an urn. It is an amphor because it has small handles on the neck. It was cast from bronze during the Middle to Late Bronze Age."

"That's old."

"Very old," Max said confidently.

"Are you certain?"

"Have I ever been wrong?"

"No," said Yaeger. "I freely admit, you've never let me down."

"Then trust me on this one. I ran a very meticulous chemical analysis of the metal. Early hardening of copper began about thirty-five hundred B.C., with the copper enriched with arsenic. The only problem was that the old miners and coppersmiths died young from the arsenic vapors. Much later, probably through an accident sometime after twenty-two hundred B.C., it was discovered that mixing ninety percent copper with ten percent tin produced a very tough and durable metal. This was the beginning of the Bronze Age. Fortunately, copper was found throughout Europe and the Middle East in great supply. But tin was fairly rare in nature and more difficult to find."

"So tin was an expensive commodity."

"It was then," said Max. "Tin traders roamed the ancient world buying ore from the mines and selling it to the people who manned the forges. Bronze produced a very advanced economy and made many of the early ancients rich. Everything was forged, from weapons—bronze spearheads, knives and swords—to small necklaces, bracelets, belts and pins for the ladies. Bronze axes and chisels greatly advanced the art of woodworking. Artisans began casting pots, urns and jars. Taken in proper perspective, the Bronze Age gready advanced civilization."

"So what's the amphor's story?"

"It was cast between twelve hundred and eleven hundred B.C. And in case you're interested it was cast using the lost-wax method to produce the mold."

Yaeger sat up in his chair. "That puts it over three thousand years old."

Max smiled sarcastically. "You're very astute."

"Where was it cast?"

"In Gaul by ancient Celts, specifically in a region known as Egypt."

"Egypt," Yaeger echoed skeptically.

"Three thousand years ago the land of the pharaohs was not called Egypt, but rather L-Khem or Kemi. Not until Alexander the Great marched through the country did he name it Egypt, after the description in the Iliad by Homer."

"I didn't know the Celts went back that far," said Yaeger.

"The Celts were a loose collection of tribes who were involved with trade and art as far back as two thousand B.C."

"But you say the amphor originated in Gaul. Where do the Celts come into the picture?"

"Invading Romans gave Celtic lands the name Gaul," explained Max. "My analysis showed the copper came from mines near Hallstatt, Austria, while the tin was mined in Cornwall, England, but the style of artwork is suggestive of a tribe of Celts in southwestern France. The figures cast on the outer diameter of the amphor are almost an exact match to those found on a cauldron dug up by a French farmer in the region in nineteen seventy-two."

"I suppose you can tell me the name of the sculptor who cast it."

Max gave Yaeger an icy stare. "You didn't ask me to probe genealogical records."

Yaeger thoughtfully soaked in the data Max reported. "Any ideas how a Bronze Age relic from Gaul came to be in a coral cavern on the Navidad Bank off the Dominican Republic?"

"I was not programmed to deal in generalities," answered Max haughtily. "I haven't the foggiest notion how it got there."

"Speculate, Max," asked Yaeger nicely. "Did it fall off a ship or perhaps become scattered cargo from a shipwreck?"

"The latter is a possibility, since ships had no reason to sail over the Navidad Bank unless they had a death wish. It might have been part of a cargo of ancient artifacts going to a rich merchant or a museum in Latin America."

"That's probably as good a guess as any."

"Not even close, actually," Max said indifferently. "According to my analysis the encrustation around the exterior is too old for any shipwreck since Columbus sailed the ocean blue. I dated the organic composition in excess of twenty-eight hundred years."

"That's not possible. There were no shipwrecks in the Western Hemisphere before fifteen hundred."

Max threw up her hands. "Have you no faith in me?"

"You have to admit that your time scale borders on the ridiculous."

"Take or leave it. I stand by my findings."

Yaeger leaned back in his chair, wondering where to take the project and Max's conclusions. "Print up ten copies of your findings. Max. I'll take it from here."

"Before you send me back to Never-Never Land," said Max, "there is one more thing."

Yaeger looked at her guardedly. "Which is?"

"When the glop is cleaned out from the interior of the amphor, you'll find a gold figurine in the shape of a goat."

"A what?"

"Bye-bye, Hiram."

Yaeger sat there, totally lost, as Max vanished back into her circuits. His mind ran toward the abstract. He tried to picture an ancient crewman on a three-thousand-year-old ship throwing a bronze pot overboard four thousand miles from Europe but the image would not unfold.

He reached over and picked up the amphor and peered inside, turning away at the awful stench of decaying sea life. He put it back in its box and sat there for a long time, unable to accept what Max had discovered.

He decided to run a check of Max's systems first thing in the morning before sharing the report with Sandecker. He wasn't about to take a chance on Max somehow becoming misguided.

Readers come back to Cussler because of his familiar characters, and fast-paced plot. The heroes and villains in Trojan Odyssey behave as expected, and those readers who enjoy predictability will appreciate Trojan Odyssey.

Steve Hopkins, January 22, 2004


ă 2004 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the February 2004 issue of Executive Times

URL for this review: Odyssey.htm


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