Dec. 2003 Book Review
The Assault on Mavis A. by Norman Stahl
The North Sea is a poor thing, as great bodies of water go. It is really
only an arm of the Atlantic, a flat plate held between the mainland of
northwest Europe and the British Isles. Glacial sands race restlessly
across its bottom, propelled by terrible tidal currents, forming high
sandbanks that are swept away and raised with such speed and
regularity that they seem to be adrift. The Admiralty charts have
never been able to stay up to date with the shifting bottom, and
deep-drafted ships use the sea only at hazard.
Like many of the insignificant, the North Sea has a vile and dangerous
temper. The weather over its sullen face can change four times in a
day, and a week-long storm can boil out of it in hours.
North Sea sailors hardly think it worthwhile to mention winds of
seventy-five miles per hour piling up fifty-foot waves. Indeed, the blow
that was moving down from Norway and that had already crossed
southwest Ireland was now hurling such winds and waves between the Norwegian and Scottish coasts.
But when in a true temper, the tiny sea could skew up what no work
of man could ignore; ninety-foot waves and a hundred-and-thirty-mile-
per-hour winds have been recorded, and undoubtedly there are bones
on the shifting sands below that have seen worse at their last awful
moment. Hence, except during the wars of seven centuries, this ugly stepchild of the oceans figured only lightly in men's interest, until one
day in 1961, when some Dutchmen working for the Shell Oil Company
pricked the ground at Groningen in Holland and found the second
largest gas field on earth.
Even a schoolboy geologist can tell you that the floor of Holland
matches precisely in structure the floor of the North Sea, so undersea
drilling for natural gas was begun beneath its surface. Some drilling for
oil was done, too, but nothing came of it until 1969, when Phillips
Petroleum hit the huge Ekofish Field. Hardly a year later British
Petroleum, working largely by chance, dropped a drill into the Forties
Field. Its reserves were estimated to be above 2 billion barrels, and
with this discovery, the North Sea turned into the treasure house of
the West. Its key was Mavis A.
As Platform Master of Mavis A., Noel Cullenbine commanded a machine
as vast and expensive as the Aswan Dam. In brilliance, daring and importance, his charge was the greatest individual work of man.
Mavis A. was so called because it was the first rig to stand in the Mavis
Field, a 900-million-barrel cache of oil beneath the North Sea. There had
never before been an oil-drilling platform like Mavis because there had
never been a crisis like the one that compelled its construction.
Cullenbine and the men who stood with him in Mavis A.'s darkened
observation tower, two hundred and fifty feet above the thundering
waves, were not merely at the center of a storm sweeping down from
Norway; they were at the center of a storm sweeping down on the
Western nations. And thus at the center of the world. Through the
rain smearing the tall, thick windows, they watched the peaks of the
waves moving toward them from the tips of mountains sixty feet high.
Sea water sometimes cleared the edges of the platform's main deck.
Despite all the unimaginable tons of steel and concrete beneath their
feet, they still felt the drumfire shocks of the sea.
The mind of Noel Cullenbine had been kept prisoner by the community,
like the body of a queen bee. What was in his head was simply too
valuable to be left in his own care. He had been a child wonder-a Mozart
of science. At the age of seven he had been brought to Edinburgh, at the university's request, to be studied by wondering professors. While his
railway-engineer father and seamstress mother fretted in a hotel room
the phenomenal ability of their only son to retain, process, organize and transmit information astounded his examiners.
Noel Cullenbine never really went home again. He was taken from his
parents almost as effectively as if he had been kidnapped. After his mind
had been plumbed and exclaimed over, he was placed in a series of
special schools, none of which seemed to be near his home.
The sheer utility of Noel Cullenbine's mind had encouraged a peculiar
kind of academic greed. From the start, the teachers of physics,
mathematics and chemistry had the advantage. He was never in a
music or history class for more than a few days before his program
was amended to replace these courses with more physical sciences.
Always it was arranged that what would come out of Cullenbine would
be machines and systems, not art or literature.
By the age of eighteen Cullenbine had grown to feel that he was unable
to touch any thing that breathed, and to try and save himself as a man
he rebelled. He disappeared from the university and from England by
buying false papers and shipping out as a sailor on a freighter. Bored immediately with that life, he jumped ship in Mexico and drifted to work
in the oil fields. Here he found the first task he'd ever loved: the brutal
challenge of wresting from the earth a running treasure, the energy
stored by a hundred million years of suns. He had felt its power beneath
his feet as he now felt the shock of waves, and ever since he had wanted
to unleash and command its power.
At first he had been content to work, to learn and to make his way slowly
up through the lowest backbreaking, limb-crushing jobs. But within a
year he yearned to multiply his engeries and to be a leader.
By this time his body had made the same startling genetic leap beyond
his parents that, earlier, his mind had. Though neither his father nor his
mother stood more than a wiry five feet eight inches, their prodigious
son grew to a thick-shouldered six feet three. But for all his bulk he was hugely agile, a combination that made him a terror in bloody oil-field
brawls. With this indispensable credential, he was a foreman in the
toughest fields of Mexico and Texas by the time he was twenty-four.
The Limey, as the other workers called him, commanded hard men by becoming a walking terror. He punished with his voice, which was loud,
metallic and abrasive when he raised it.
Directed at a cringing workman, it had the effect of the curdling yells
used in Oriental fighting arts: it paralyzed. He punished with his fists,
which were ridged with knuckles so massive that they might have
served for models of a gladiator's glove. And he punished with his scorn.
It shot out of his eyes like venom; men who felt it once would perform
wonders rather than face it again.
Now, just past forty, Cullenbine needed all these savage talents as the operating boss of Mavis A. Brilliant, computer-nurtured plans flowed
into operation largely because of the fists and tongue of this spectacularly effective man.
He had attained his present position as inexorably as though God had determined it. When he returned from his exile after eight years, even
harder than he had left, society again sponsored him where it had left
off, but now he was willing because the world was after industrial
growth, and a major part of this growth hinged on the recover of oil......
About the Author:
Norman Stahl is a native New Yorker and a graduate of City University.
Though The Assault on Mavis A. is his first novel, as a senior vice
president and creative director of a major New York advertising agency
he has been writing professionally for fifteen years. A private pilot, he
is an avid follower of air racing, and lives in Bay Shore, Long Island.
Note from Collectible Treasures: Due to the adult content in this
book, I have limited the book review to the a large section of the
first chapter and the Prologue. In reading this book for the review,
I found it to be quiet an interesting subject.
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