A thriller with a submarine on the cover suggests many things – from
Tom Clancy to Das Boot and countless other underwater military yarns. Phil Robinson’s
USS Alcatraz is a different beast entirely, a churning and rousing dive into
what he calls “mayhem and skullduggery.” We asked Phil why he created such a
wild story and what animates him as a storyteller. Here are his 10 reasons.
I wanted to write a book that was outrageous and
fun, with huge characters that you could hiss and boo.
The USS Alcatrazexists in the same sort of alternate reality as other big adventure
stories, like Raiders of the Lost Arc
or Batman. The idea behind it—that a
wealthy malcontent can drop his enemies to the bottom of the ocean—is a fun
one. The story is supposed to be plausible, rather than likely.
I started writing because I was bored with
thrillers that read like non-fiction memoirs. I didn’t want to read about
soldiers unpacking and packing rucksacks and discussing their load-out and
mission planning. I am much more interested in mayhem and skullduggery.
Like most men my age I probably have MacGyver
issues. I am more interested in a character improvising with what’s around him,
than pulling out the greatest piece of gear ever.
The “what if” at the heart of the story really
grabbed me. What if you could make a submarine into a prison?
As soon as I started researching the book I realized
that building a prison sub from scratch would take too much time and cost way
too much. Stealing one and refitting it would be much smarter. I searched
around for submarines that had been lost at sea and found this old cargo
submarine project in Archangelsk that suffered problems with brittle titanium
hulls. Perfect, I thought, I can have Carson steal one!
I quickly realized that it never really mattered
to Carson if his new prison submarine was really sea-worthy; he was only going
to sink it again anyway.
Anyone looking for a book about submarine
warfare is in for a shock. The USS Alcatraz is more sunken death-trap than underwater war machine.
I grew up reading graphic novels and thrillers
side by side. I think the two genres have bled together here. I owe as great a
debt to Frank Miller and Alan Moore as I do Tom Clancy or Alistair Macclean.
Too many books are written with the film in
mind. I wanted to write a story without limits that jumped around the world.
That’s one of the great things about the novel format; you can leap between
characters at will and go where your imagination takes you.