Tuesday, April 22

The Last Ship

Most of my disaster posts have been about movies, but I just finished reading The Last Ship by William Brinkley and felt the need to blog about slogging through (what felt like) a billion pages! Even though Brinkley could have used some serious editing, I got to the end of the book and promptly got on the computer to see if he wrote a sequel. The book follows the crew of the USS Nathan James in a post-apocalyptic world. Although most of the world and its inhabitants have been either annihilated by the nuclear bombs or slowly dying of radiation poisoning, the 300+ people aboard the ship remain safely out to sea. They have limited amounts of food and fuel, however, meaning they must find some safe place to land. I won't turn the post into a book report.. go read the ridiculously long book yourself if you want to find out exactly what happens.. but I will point out:

1) I was surprised to see that the book was published in 1988. The way the book was written, I was expecting a more cold war-era date. Especially in its approach to surviving nuclear war, it reminded me a lot of Alas, Babylon.

2) The captain of the USS Nathan James spends a lot of time thinking about the fact that his Navy ship has women aboard. While this fact ultimately plays a large role in the plot and the future of humanity (for practical reasons), I felt like some of his opining was Brinkley's way of discussing gender roles and the place of women in the military. In some ways, the captain/Brinkley's mostly internal debate about women and warships is pretty nuanced. While he admits that he originally had reservations about women serving, he also then spends a good bit of time discussing how the women on the Nathan James are superb if not superior sailors. Not surprisingly, he seems unable to move away from a rather reductive understanding of gender differences (i.e. women are cunning beings who recognize their sexuality as their ultimate power), but at least both men and women are portrayed as equally likely to be good/bad etc.

3) A lot of the book ends of being about the fate of humanity. With women aboard the ship, the Captain realizes they may have the unique opportunity to replenish the earth (or at least an island or two). Ultimately the book raises some really interesting questions, such as: should we actually try to reproduce given the destruction already brought about by human beings, and given 20 or so women and over a hundred men, what kind of society or system would be built? I'll let you read the book to find out.. but I think that the type of social and sexual system created in The Last Ship seems a little too male-fantasy driven. Or perhaps it really is just the most practical option given the situation. Either way, it was really interesting to see a male writer's take on human sexuality and reproduction in a post-apocalyptic novel.