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Retrospective: Atlantis Found, by Clive Cussler

by Justine Flood

This article focuses on the Clive Cussler novel, Atlantis Found (1999). This article is divided into two parts.

This page provides a synopsis of the plot, with a few comments on Cussler's treatment of his characters, in particular women. Cussler's take on the legend of Atlantis as well as the legend of Nazi gold is on a separate page.

Clive Cussler writes of the inimitable Dirk Pitt, head troubleshooter for the National Underwater & Marine Agency (NUMA), in a popular series of techno-thrillers.

Most of these novels have elements of science fiction. Pitt has never blasted off into space ala James Bond -- the majority of his adventures take place under water. So we get submarines and sophisticated ships of various kinds, and quite a bit of futuristic gadgetry as well.

The early books also take place in the "near future," with an Earth running out of energy and skewed political alignments. Raise the Titanic (the book that shot Cussler to fame) appeared in 1976 but the action was set eleven years later, in 1987.

At this point, the Middle East was apparently two years away from running out of oil, and the radioactive ore on the Titanic was necessary to save the world. Atlantis Found was published in 1989, the action takes place in 2001, and the world's problems of the earlier books have been forgotten.

Warning: the book is examined in detail and there will be spoilers.

The prologues:
In 7120 BC, a comet hits what is now Hudson Bay, Canada, with such an impact that the world as it then is, is wiped out except for a few small pockets of people who manage to survive the flooding and the freezing and the earthquakes. Among these small pockets of people are the remnants of a highly advanced civilization who strive to leave a warning to future generations about another comet that will strike again in 9,000 years, and bring the same kind of destruction.

On September 30, 1858, a woman from a whaling ship trapped in the Antarctic ice, finds another ship, from the 1770s, even deeper in the ice. All the crew are frozen to death on this ship, but the whalers investigate the cargo holds. Suddenly the pack ice begins to thaw, and the living flee back to their own ship. The woman takes with her a black obsidian skull...that will remain in the family for generations, while her husband, the captain of the whaler, comes away with the ship's log.

The Dirk Pitt series

The Mediterranean Caper
Iceberg
Raise the Titanic!
Vixen 03
Night Probe!
Pacific Vortex!
Deep Six
Cyclops
Treasure
Dragon
Sahara
Inca Gold
Shock Wave
Flood Tide
Atlantis Found
Valhalla Rising
Trojan Odyssey
Black Wind
Treasure of Kahn
1973
1975
1976
1978
1981
1983
1984
1986
1988
1990
1992
1994
1996
1997
1999
2001
2003
2004
2006

This is the way the Cussler books unfold (after the first two in the series in which Cussler was finding his way, formulaically). Past events - sometimes real past events with fictional characters inserted - are described, in which the "Macguffin" - a treaty, a load of rare radioactive ore, etc. - is lost, or hidden, and which will come back howsoever many years later to be of extreme importance to the saving of the civilized world.

It is these historical sub-themes and how they play out that draw most fans to the Cussler books...since it must be admitted that the characterization and the dialogue do leave a bit to be desired.

In the case of Atlantis Found, after the two prologues the action jumps forward 150 years to:

Present day, March 22, 2001:
A gemstone hunter, Luis Marquez, excavating semi-precious rhodochrosite crystals from a played-out goldmine in Telluride, Colorado, sets a controlled dynamite charge. The explosion reveals a hidden room, a perfect cube, carved out of the rock, with symbols incised on the walls and an obsidian skull on a plinth. Marquez reports the find and soon two scientists arrive to investigate.

Patricia O'Connell, the lovely expert in ancient writing, and Dr. Thomas Ambrose, an eminent anthropologist. Marquez leads them into the mine to investigate the room, and while they are recording the symbols, an explosion and subsequent landslide traps them inside the mine. The mine also starts to flood.

Fortunately, Dirk Pitt and his cohort from NUMA, Al Giordino, who are in the area "exploring a complex system of ancient waterways that once drained the flank of the San Juan Mountains" decide to take a hand. Dirk Pitt scuba dives through the flooded mine shafts and rescues the three trapped individuals.

After much intrigue - in which it is revealed that the explosion was not an accident but rather an attempt at murder - it is discovered that a secret organization full of ruthless people exists, and is willing to kill not only any innocent bystanders that learn of the secrets, but their own people as well, should they be so unlucky as to be captured by the authorities.

Set pieces
Dirk Pitt
Dirk Pitt rendezvous with an unarmed Antarctic research ship, the Polar Storm. His goal is to find the 1770s ship trapped in the ice and see what the remaining artifacts in its hold might reveal. Although they find the ship and the artifacts...they are immediately attacked by a U-boat. The famous U-2015, that had disappeared off the coast of Denmark just as World War II was ending...

Al Giordino
Meanwhile, Al Giordino and Rudi Gunn, a NUMA desk-jockey who decides he wants some adventure, journey to St. Paul Island, among the remote Crozet Islands, where reports of a group of climbers being mysteriously killed has raised a red flag. When they arrive, they do indeed find a cache of ancient mummies, carved symbols, and other obsidian skull. And then the bad guys come...


Akte Atlantis.
German translation

Dirk Pitt
The U-2015 is sunk by a US nuclear submarine before it can complete it's methodical destruction of the Polar Storm via surface fire, and Pitt dives down to look at the wreckage. He sees and recovers the body of a beautiful blond woman. The sight of this woman causes distress among the crew of the ship.

Pitt was helped off with his air tanks, and gazed at the sled with the body that was being dragged by crewmen toward the Polar Storm. "Unless I miss my guess, she was an officer."

"A great pity," said Cox sorrowfully. "She must have been a very attractive lady."

"Even in death," Evie said sadly, "there was an undeniable sophistication about her. If I'm any judge of character, she was a woman of quality."

Evie Tan is a female reporter on the Polar Storm research ship, one of a few ostensibly 'strong' women with whom Cussler populates his books. [The later Cussler books have plenty of female characters. The woman-in-distress, who generally falls for Pitt and whose frequent needs to be rescued drives the plot, and the female villains, usually but not always ancillary to the main, male villain.]

It's important to the plot that the body of this 'woman of quality' be recovered, because later on Pitt will meet women who look exactly like her.

Introduction of the villains
A little less than halfway through the book, we meet the main villains for the first time, and learn a bit of their master plan. After a description and history of the Teatro Colòn opera house in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Karl Wolf and his four sisters - each one identical to the others - are in attendance, although none of the women is at all interested opera.

Karl Wolf, owner of Destiny Enterprises, is summoned to their headquarters where the rest of the family are gathered, and there he is given the news - of the several of their people who have been killed in the last few weeks by Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino.


Who designed this cover?
Cussler does put a few "in-jokes" in his books, from putting himself in a few of them, to other more subtle comments:

"Marine scientists and engineers are not professional killers," said Elsie. "Our agent working undercover at the National Underwater and Marine Agency in Washington sent me the personnel files files of the men who were responsible for our dead in Colorado and on St. Paul Island. They are not ordinary men. Their exploits within NUMA read like an adventure novel series."

Pitt and Giordino
Dirk Pitt, Giordino, Patricia McConnell and a new character, "Dr. Bradford Hatfield, a pathologist/archaeologist who specialized in the study of ancient mummies," travel to St. Paul Island to examine Giordino and Gunn's finds. In addition to expanding on the lives of the ancient peoples who might have been "Atlanteans", this gives Dirk Pitt and Giordino an opportunity to persist in actions regarding the mummies, even though they're told by an expert not to do so, thus showing their independence and disdain for authority.

This is an attitude that runs through many of the Cussler books, as there is always at least one government clerk or other individuals who tries to prevent Pitt from doing something without going through channels, and Pitt slices through the red tape unheeding. In the case of government red tape one can usually sympathize, but in this instance, they bring a pathologist/archaeologist mummy expert with them - and then refuse to pay any attention to what he has to say or the advice he has to give. His appearance there seems to be only as a foil to show how stubborn and "I'm right and I don't care if you're an expert" Dirk Pitt is.

Hiram Yaeger and Max
Hiram Yaeger is the computer expert for NUMA, and Max is the sentient computer with a woman's voice who can tap into all other computers around the country. Max has decoded most of the symbols and explains what's going on.

"Not one, but two comets swept in from the far outer solar system and caused worldwide calamity...."

"The meat of the story comes later, with the description of the people and their civilization that existed before the cataclysm and the aftermath. Most all were annihilated. The pitiful few who survived, too weakened to rebuild their empire, saw it as their divine mission to wander the world, educate the primitive stone-aged inhabitants of the era who endured in remote areas, and built monuments warning of the next cataclysm."

"...they only vaguely resembled the tale passed down from Plato, the famed Greek philosopher. His record of a conversation that took place two hundred years before his time, between his ancestor, the great Greek statesman Solon, and an Egyptian priest, is the first written account of a land called Atlantis."

In the discussion between Hiram and Max, the history of the legend of Atlantis is recounted, from Plato to Edgar Cayce's claims.

Pitt and Loren Smith
Congresswoman Loren Smith is Pitt's woman of choice, when it comes to romantic love. Smith picks him up at the airport and fills him in on the Wolff family as she drives him to NUMA headquarters. After a chat with Yaeger in which more information about the mythical Atlantis and the current evidence is shared, Pitt notices an intruder in Admiral Sandecker's (the head of NUMA) office. There is a chase, and the intruder is captured. It turns out to be a woman who looks exactly like the woman from the sunken U-boat of a few weeks ago.

Information Dump
The entire chapter takes place at NUMA headquarters, with yet more information given on the coming crisis. The second comet, on its return journey after 9,000 years, is expected to impact the earth in less than two months.

Pitt and Elsie
Dirk Pitt visits Elsie Wolff in the hospital. Prior to meeting her he is informed by a doctor who examined her that she is not a clone but rather someone who was simply genetically engineered. Elsie hides very little...except she seems a bit evasive about why her family and Destiny Enterprises is preparing for the end of the world. She tells Pitt that:

"It took three generations of selection and experimentation. My generation has physically perfect bodies and the mental capacity of geniuses. We are also exceedlingly creative in the arts."

"We have been planning our survival for over fifty years. My family will not be swept away by floods or burned by raging fires. We are prepared to weather the catastrophe and endure the aftermath."

She also tells him quite freely of the rooms her family found with the obsidian skulls. Her family found two, the NUMA people found three, and two had been destroyed. Then, Elsie refuses to speak more. (Why was it Elsie who had broken in to Sandecker's office? Why not their agent - who was actually Sandecker's secretary?? Or a minion? Why Elsie? Well, so that her resemblance to her cousin on the U-boat could be made known.)

Pitt and Loren
More information dump. Pitt tells Loren of the Nazi activities at the end of World War II, with the disappearance of the Nazi treasure, and then moves on to nanotechnology and what that involves (Destiny Enterprises is working on nanotechnology), and Loren tells Pitt that Destiny Enterprises has constructed four huge vessels - built to ride out a predicted cataclysm.

Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino
Patricia McConnell and her daughter, who were supposed to be safe under the protection of the CIA, have been kidnapped. Pitt immediately deduces that they have been kidnapped by Destiny Enterprises and are probably aboard one of the four ships located at the Destiny Enterprises shipyard. So he and Al Giordino infiltrate the facility, find Pat and her daughter, and help them escape.

At the same time as Pitt and Giordino are rescuing Pat, Admiral Sandecker, CIA agent Ron Little and ex-U-boat captain Christian Hozafel are conversing in Sandecker's suite at the Watergate. Hozafel describes the activities of the German U-boats at the end of World War II, and the special Nazi base constructed in the Antarctic.


The British version
Dirk Pitt, Patricia O'Connell, and the Wolfs
There's a party being given at the British embassy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Karl Wolf, three of his sisters (including Elsie) and their husbands, are in attendance. Also in attendance are Dirk Pitt, and for some reason Patricia O'Connell is there as well.

Pitt confronts Karl Wolf...and is not impressed when Karl Wolf stands up to show that he is two inches taller than Pitt. Pitt makes a comment to Elsie that annoys her, and she makes as if to slap Pitt. It is not Pitt but Pat O'Connell who reacts, lunging forward and grabbing her arm. But the cat-fight anticipated by Pitt and Karl Wolff doesn't come off. (Frankly, this entire scene seems to exist only so that there is the potentiality of such a fight.)

Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino, and other NUMA people
It is revealed that the second comet is not going to impact the earth. So why, wonders Dirk Pitt, is the millionaire Wolff family acting so certain that the earth will soon be subjected to catastrophic flooding?

The Wolffs
The Wolffs are preparing to dislodge the Ross Ice Shelf, which will cause the flooding and destruction that they so desire, so that only the Wolffs and their chosen few employees will survive the deluge.

NUMA
Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino go across the Antarctic to get into the secret Wolff ice base by the back way, while the US Army Special Forces attacks from the front. Thanks to Pitt and Giordino, the good guys prevail. The main members of the Wolff family -- Karl and his sisters, are sent out into the Antarctic ice to freeze to death.

NUMA
The adventure is wrapped up, and Loren reveals to Pitt that she's thinking of resigning from politics. She wants to have a baby and settle down. It's she who proposes to Pitt.

"I've had my day playing the independent woman, individualist woman. I enjoyed it. But now its time to get practical. There are other projects I'd like to take on."

"Such as?"

"I've been asked to take over the directorship of the National Child Abuse Foundation."

And so the story ends, until the next time, with Valhalla Rising.

Cussler's take on the legend of Atlantis.

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