The Last Ship (novel)
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
|Cover artist||Neil Stuart (1988)|
|Publisher||Viking Press (hardcover)
Ballantine Books (paperback)
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-670-80981-0 (hardcover)
ISBN 0-345-35982-8 (paperback)
ISBN 978-0-14-218143-0 (eBook)
|LC Class||PS3503.R56175 L37 1988|
The Last Ship tells the story of a United States Navy guided missile destroyer, the fictional USS Nathan James (DDG-80), on patrol in the Barents Sea during a brief, full-scale nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It details the ship's ensuing search for a new home for her crew. 
The story is told in a first-person point of view by the ship's commanding officer, "Thomas", whose full name is never revealed. Thomas is writing this account several months after the war in order to describe the odyssey of his Norwegian-homeported ship, the USS Nathan James (DDG-80), in the aftermath of the conflict.
Thomas begins by describing his ship to the reader. He discusses the ethics of commanding a warship, the capabilities of nuclear strike forces, daily life aboard a U.S. Navy ship in the Arctic Circle, and the nature of his ship's mission.
The Nathan James is the lead ship of her class and has a beam of 59 feet (18 m), a draft of 27 feet (8.2 m), and a length of 466 feet (142 m), with a rated speed of 38 knots (43.73 mph; 70.38 km/h). She was named after a U.S. Navy ensign who was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in World War II. Armed with two 61-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launching Systems, the Nathan James carries a payload of 28 nuclear-tipped Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles for each Vertical Launching System, for a total of 56 nuclear-tipped Tomahawk cruise missiles rated at 200 kilotons each. Captain Thomas remarks that despite the reduction in the land based ICBM arsenal, there is still considerable power in the SLBMs and Tomahawks, his ship alone having more power than several missile silos combined.
On December 21, without warning, Thomas, the captain of the U.S. Navy destroyer, USS Nathan James (DDG-80), receives authenticated orders to carry out a nuclear strike on the Soviet city of Orel and its nearby ICBM silos. The nuclear tipped Tomahawks are fired off in an emotionless, automated manner. Over a period of hours they watch them make landfall on radar, and listen as the radio stations from Orel go off the air. With the mission complete, they report back to their superiors, and a reply from the U.S. Navy comes through, ordering them to break with general orders in this situation (operating under which they would proceed to the North Sea), but the message garbles to gibberish towards the end without telling them what their new orders are. With one exception later in the book, this is the last official communication from the U.S. Navy that the Nathan James ever receives.
While they can later surmise there must have been a series of major exchanges, as a simple, single exchange of 'counter-force' strikes would not account for the sheer scale of the fallout they later find, and they can also conclude other nuclear powers like India, Pakistan, etc. have also fired at each other, they never learn with certainty what led to the launches or the exact sequence of events.
Thomas then decides to head southward into the North Sea and then to the United Kingdom, in order to re-establish contact with friendly forces. The ship encounters dense clouds of radioactive smoke all around Great Britain, through which can be seen the ruins of Big Ben and London.
The ship proceeds to a NATO naval base at Rota, Spain, only to see that it too has been destroyed, taking a large section of the Mediterranean area with it. On their way to Rota, the ship encounters a Soviet Navy ballistic missile submarine, the Pushkin, off a destroyed Gibraltar. It surfaces, but does not make contact, and quickly vanishes. The Nathan James continues to scout the Mediterranean coastline, finding only masses of people suffering from radiation sickness, who have fled to the beaches as they are the least affected area away from the inland fallout. On their way out of the Mediterranean, the Soviet submarine makes contact. The two vessels quickly establish a truce and agree to a joint operation. The Pushkin, fully fueled but low on food, will attempt to reach a secret Soviet supply base in the Arctic and retrieve supplies and nuclear fuel for the Nathan James, while the U.S. Navy destroyer, relatively well-stocked with food but low on nuclear fuel, will make her way to the Pacific Ocean in search of habitable land for the two crews. Thomas keeps the deal he made (trading food for nuclear fuel, if found at the secret base) with the Soviet captain from most of his crew, in order to not get their hopes up.
The Nathan James steams through the coasts of Africa, encountering lifeless derelicts, inhospitable lands, and ill, wounded survivors who have made their way to the coasts, though the ship lacks the resources to offer any aid to the stricken civilians.
Eventually the Nathan James receives a message from the National Command Authority ordering all recipients to reply, they do so, but the message keeps repeating again and again; they conclude it's just an automated transmission. Based on his knowledge of the Soviet Union's targeting of North America as well as what he has seen of Europe, Thomas, along with most of the ship's officers, concludes that the United States has simply ceased to exist and that what remains of North America is uninhabitable. Many of the crew wish to go home to the U.S., to see what has happened. This would mean that they would have to expend a lot of fuel to get there, and would not be able to come back to Africa and onward to find more habitable lands. If the U.S. was like Europe, the ship would simply be trapped. Thomas thus decides to proceed to the Pacific Ocean by way of the Suez canal.
The ship's Combat Systems Officer (CSO) believes that parts of North America may still be habitable and he demands that the ship return to the U.S. east coast so that they can see for themselves. The captain tries to keep the CSO in line, but he challenges the captain's authority when he reminds him that the U.S. Navy (under which Thomas is legally bestowed as captain of the vessel) no longer exists, meaning Thomas is no longer in lawful command. He demands a vote on the correct course of action. Thomas, angered at this mutiny, allows a vote thinking the CSO has little support, but he is shocked when nearly a third of the crew side with the CSO. The mutineers demand rafts and the captain's gig in order to sail thousands of miles to the United States. With a mixture of sadness and outrage, Thomas agrees and the mutineers depart.
In the following weeks, the ship proceeds through the Suez Canal, which is luckily open, and travels through treacherous seas in the Indian Ocean as nuclear winter begins to take full effect with dramatic temperature drops and black snow at the equator. They notice a pattern where the more land there is, and the bigger the landmass, the heavier the fallout. Through the Strait of Hormuz and down past India the fallout becomes so dense that the crew cannot go onto the weather decks. Luckily, the Nathan James was designed with fallout in mind and Thomas orders the ship hermetically sealed and people on the bridge in short rotations. Despite this, the crew suffers from mild radiation sickness and their passage through this dense fallout becomes so trying on them psychologically that many crew vanish overboard.
Things get even more bleak when they lose contact with the Soviet submarine, assuming she, with their nuclear fuel, was lost when scouting the Soviet coastline.
The Nathan James eventually reaches the remote South Pacific and, with the ship's nuclear fuel nearly gone, discovers a small, uncontaminated island in French Polynesia. The ship's crew then establishes a community on the island and they begin to try to conceive children in order to start to restart humanity. Their hope is eventually to start humanity over again in phases, expanding outward as the contamination from various landmasses goes down, and other ships find the island. They begin to have everyone with a military occupational specialty write out all their knowledge for future generations. They work out a system to allow genetic diversity with anonymous fatherhood, with the women always in strict control. However, no pregnancies occur. They worry that the radiation of the nuclear winter may have rendered everyone sterile.
Some time later, the Pushkin appears on the horizon. Its crew on the verge of starvation but bearing an abundance of nuclear fuel. The Nathan James is at last free to sail again, keeping the island as its home base. They even believe the Soviet submariners, who may have been free of contamination due to being submerged, can take their place in the genetic pool.
But then a new disaster strikes; a group of the ship's sailors, abhorring the remaining nuclear missiles aboard the ship, launches them without Thomas' permission. One of the missiles accidentally detonates while in flight, triggering a chain reaction among all of the other missiles, destroying the Nathan James and contaminating the island.
Thomas, his remaining crew, and the Soviet crew immediately embark aboard the Pushkin to escape, beginning a new search for another sanctuary, eventually reaching the American research facility at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, abandoned but containing years' worth of food and supplies.
The Pushkin is modified during an escape to McMurdo Station by jettisoning its nuclear missiles into the ocean so they can use the freed space in the silos for a recreational area and a nursery. The introduction of the Soviet crew into the American selective breeding program has resulted in at least three pregnancies. The Pushkin has the fuel and food from McMurdo to conduct long, thorough explorations of the world. Now well-provisioned, the survivors prepare to rediscover the world.
V.C. Royster of The Wall Street Journal compared it to Nevil Shute's On the Beach, saying that The Last Ship was an "even more fascinating tale". Writing for The Washington Post, Anthony Hyde said The Last Ship was "An extraordinary novel of men at war" and a "superb portrait of naval command". John R. Alden of The Cleveland Plain Dealer stated that The Last Ship was "beautifully written" and was a "magnificent book". Clay Reynolds of The Dallas Morning News called the book "engrossing" and a "pleasure to read". Burke Wilkinson, a U.S. naval officer, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, called The Last Ship "extraordinary" and a "true classic", saying that its sum was "greater than its parts."
In July 2012, the American cable television network TNT ordered a pilot episode of a series based on the novel. The series is produced by Platinum Dunes Partners with Michael Bay, Hank Steinberg, and Steven Kane serving as executive producers. Steinberg and Kane wrote the pilot script, and Jonathan Mostow directed the pilot. The adaptation varies significantly from the original novel. In addition to being set in the early part of the first half of the 21st century, the world wide devastation of mankind is the result of a pandemic for which the crew must find a cure and not the result of nuclear warfare between superpowers.
The pilot was filmed at a number of locations across San Diego including aboard the USS Halsey (DDG-97), which is standing in for the show's fictional USS Nathan James (DDG-151). The former Atlantic liner RMS Queen Mary, now berthed at Long Beach, was also to be used extensively.[not in citation given] The show stars Adam Baldwin, Rhona Mitra, Michaela McManus, Charles Parnell, Sam Spruell, Travis Van Winkle and Christina Elmore. Eric Dane plays the commanding officer of the USS Nathan James, Commander Tom Chandler.
In May 2013, TNT ordered 10 episodes of The Last Ship, set to air in June 2014. So far, the show has been filmed at a number of locations across San Diego including aboard the USS Halsey (DDG-97) and the USS Dewey (DDG-105), which stands in for the show's fictional USS Nathan James (DDG-151).
- "The Last Ship (TV 2013)". IMDb. Internet Movie Database. August 22, 2012. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Brinkley, William (February 1989). The Last Ship (Paperback ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 21. ISBN 0345359828. "USS Nathan James, DDG 80, guided missile destroyer, first of her class,"
- "The Last Ship eBook". Amazon. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
- "The Last Ship". Barnes and Noble. Retrieved November 14, 2013.
- Brinkley, William (February 1989). The Last Ship (Paperback ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. p. 3. ISBN 0345359828.
- "The Last Ship: William Brinkley". Post-Apocalyptic Book List. Apocalypse Books. 2013. Retrieved July 9, 2013.
- Wilkinson, Burke (June 20, 1988). "A fictional ship searches for survival in a post-nuclear world". The Christian Science Monitor (The Christian Science Monitor). Retrieved April 12, 2014.
- "TNT". TNT. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
- Webb, Justin L. (November 9, 2012). "Naval Base San Diego; USS Halsey featured in "The Last Ship"". United States Navy. Department of Defense. Retrieved April 15, 2013. "Production crews completed nearly two weeks of filming for the pilot episode of "The Last Ship", executive produced by Michael Bay, onboard Naval Base San Diego (NBSD) and the Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey (DDG 97) Nov. 2."
- Andreeva, Nellie (September 12, 2012). "Jonathan Mostow To Direct Michael Bay’s TNT Pilot ‘The Last Ship’". Retrieved September 30, 2012.
- Kondolojy, Amanda (July 16, 2012). "TNT Orders Pilot of 'The Last Ship' Executive-Produced by Michael Bay". Zap2it. Retrieved July 16, 2012.
- Berkshire, Geoff (October 10, 2012). "Eric Dane's 'Grey's Anatomy' rebound: Starring in Michael Bay's TNT pilot 'The Last Ship'". Retrieved October 12, 2012.
- Ausiello, Michael (October 10, 2012). "Pilot Scoop: Grey's Anatomy's Eric Dane to Captain TNT Action Drama The Last Ship". Retrieved October 12, 2012.
- TNT Digital (May 10, 2013). "TNT's Official 'The Last Ship' Site". Retrieved May 14, 2013.
- Littlejohn, Donna; Kuznia, Rob; Mazza, Sandy (January 6, 2014). "South Bay, Harbor Area communities work to attract more filming". The Daily Breeze. The Daily Breeze. Retrieved January 9, 2014.