BOOK REVIEW: “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” by Raymond F. Jones (1965)

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I may be the first person to have *Ever* reviewed this book. Hell, I may be the first person to even have read it in a decade or so. I, myself, have only read it twice in thirty-something years, though I’ve had it all that time. It’s pretty obscure, and fairly personal to me, so allow some gonzo journalism before we get to the actual review:

From 1965-1968 there was a show called “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” which was similar to Star Trek in format and execution. Where Trek was “Planet of the Week,” Voyage was “Island of the Week,” with maybe a bit of Mission: Impossible thrown in here and there. Despite - or perhaps because of - being quite a bit stupider that ‘Trek, it was quite a bit more popular in its initial run, though it’s been largely forgotten since; a poor second to Lost In Space. (And make no bones about it, Voyage way better than LiS). I discovered the show when I was nine or ten, and instantly fell in obsessive love with it for reasons any young boy would immediately understand:
1) I was sick to death of ‘Trek, since I’d seen every episode a jillion times.
2) The only alternative was Space: 1999, which, even as a pre-adolescent, I was aware sucked out loud
3) Submarines are cool!
4) Man From Atlantis had already crashed and burned, so I needed another submarine fix.
5) It was similar enough to Trek (Or, since it predated Trek, maybe I should say Trek was similar enough to Voyage) that if I got bored, I could squint hard and pretend it *was* Trek, maybe on another ship, or maybe just some random Trekoid space show.
6) Explosions, explosions, explosions!
7) No lovey-dovey stuff or characterization gumming up the story
8) Generally better music, frequently by the same folks that did ‘Trek’s soundtrack.
9) Monsters
Hold that thought.

Back in the 1960s, there was a company called “Whitman” who published Juvies - we’d call ‘em “YA Fiction” today - in hard backed format, and with a half dozen ink-and-pen illustrations. They were about the size and length of your standard Hardy Boys hardback - say 50,000 words or so, maybe 120 pages - but they were idea for me at the time. These ran the gamut from SF through mystery and spy stuff, on down to westerns. A lot of these books were originals, such as “Space Eagle” and some others, all of varying quality (I haven’t read it in 30+ years, but I strongly suspect in retrospect that Space Eagle sucked), and a lot of ‘em were licencesed tie-ins to popular TV shows. This was actually a pretty new thing at the time, and these were *not* novelizations of episodes, they were entirely new stories, written while the shows were still on the air. Off the top of my head, I can remember “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.: The Affair of the Gunrunner’s Gold” and “Star Trek: Mission to Horatius” and - you guessed it - Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea!
Hold that thought:

My family was close with my preacher’s family. When my folks went out of town on vacation, they left me with them. When the preacher’s family went out of town, they left their youngest daughter with us. We lived on the same street for a while, shared a backyard, and hung out both in and out of church. I was young enough not to have any prurient interests that might have made that awkward, and by the time such things raised their ugly heads, we’d already gotten a better house and moved to a new neighborhood.

When the preacher’s eldest son (Steve) went away to college around the time I was eleven or so, his dad packed up all the guy’s old kiddie books and gave ‘em to me. There were lots of ’em in there, including a slew of Whitmans, including, you guessed it: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea!

It was the holy grail for me! I read it a dozen times in like a month, then, I dunno, I just sort of fetishized it and kept it. I long ago got rid of the other books, one by one. (I wish I’d kept “Mission to Horatius,” though, that was the first-ever Trek Novel, beating “Spock Must Die” and the others by like a decade) Even when I’d stopped re-reading it and lost all interest, I held on to it. Even after Voyage disappeared from my local UHF station, I held on to that one for reasons I could never quite explain. Even now, whenever I move, it’s a bit like the flag in an Embassy: First thing in, last thing out.

I know for a fact, though, that I haven’t bothered to crack the cover on it for three decades.

PLAY BY PLAY

At some point between Season 1 and Season 2, the Seaview is investigating a disaster at an undersea oil drilling station. They find a baby in the ruins, and a note claiming the mother sacrificed herself to keep the kid alive. Odd, as there were no women on the staff of the station. They load der kind into the sub, and head home, where Captain Crain picks up his girlfriend, Cathy, who ends up taking care of the kid. Before they can really make out, another disaster strikes and the Seaview heads out again.

Survivors at this new disaster site tell of a huge sub, three times the size of the Seaview, that refused to render aid. The Seaview rescues the folks at this underwater mining operation, and then hunt around for the mystery sub. Finding it, they give chase, and it eventually leads them to an underwater cave populated by… bum-BUM-bummmmm….

Minoans.

Yep. Vanished Greek Culture from thousands of years ago. The book is deliberately fuzzy on how they came to be here, but they say they fled invaders by hopping into the minotaur’s labyrinth, which led them here. And possibly other places as well, again, the book is deliberately fuzzy on details.

Anywhoo: The Minoans are living in a huge cave miles across, 900 feet below sea level, illuminated somehow (Fuzzy) heated (Fuzzy) and with purified air (Also fuzzy) and plenty of food (Ok, look, they just don‘t give any details at all, ok? They just have the characters say “Wow, that‘s weird,” and don‘t concern themselves with it again). There are thousands of people down here, and maybe in other enclaves as well.

The folks here have discovered ways to futz around with gravity and magnetism, and consider the colonization of the sea to be an invasion of their domain, so they’re sending their huge ship out to cause earthquakes, thus destroying the interlopers. They deliberately lured the Seaview in, however, because despite all these pretty advanced technologies, they’ve never been able to crack Nuclear Power. Admiral Nelson, Captain Crane, Chief “Curly” Jones, and this week’s guest star, Dr. Robert Banks, are taken prisoner, everyone else stays on the ship while the enemy sub heads off to destroy Miami with an earthquake.

A hot chick rescues the captives, and leads them to the deposed king of the Minoans. Turns out the guy in charge of the Earthquake project led a coup some years back, killing the king. The hot chick was the wife of said dead king, and she hid the baby in the wreckage of the oil drilling base when she realized he’d be rescued by the Seaview in a couple hours. This in order to avoid the bad guy from whacking the kid as well. Meanwhile, the old king came out of retirement as a titular figure only.

Nelson et al then get embroiled in perhaps the least impressive counter-coup in history: They simply drive to the docks, and everyone more-or-less changes sides. They give the baby to it’s mama, and the Seaview gives chase to the ’Quake sub. The Old King comes along with some Minoans to outfit the sub with some new tech that will keep the ‘Quake weapon from destroying her before they get close.

You get your normal cat-and-mouse stuff here, and in the best tradition of Trek (And Voyage), the new tech proves a bit iffy and is prone to fail at sufficiently dramatic intervals. Eventually, however, the good guys win.

Back in the Minoan City, the Minoans say goodbye, and, oh, by the way, we’re going to retreat into other caves and blow this one up so your society won’t have any more contact with us. Thanks, b’bye. Dr. Banks elects to stay with the hot chick. The rest of ’em leave, there’s a series of huge explosions, the cavern collapses, and the Seaview is sealed in. Fortunately, using their superpowers, they manage to escape unscathed.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

It’s not a bad little book, to be honest. It’s written by Raymond F. Jones, a SF writer I’ve never heard of before, but who I’m definitely gonna’ check out. Here’s the Wiki page:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raymond_F._Jones

I got the distinct impression reading this that Jones wasn’t too familiar with Voyage. I don’t think he’d never seen it, but he didn’t seem to have a grip on the characters. This really isn’t much of a problem, though, as the characters he’s a bit fuzzy on tend, for the most part, to stay in the background, or off stage completely. Kowalski, Patterson, Clark, and Sparks, don’t show up at all. A doctor shows up who may or may not be Doc from the show, but whoever he is he’s called “Jamison.” (The regular doctor is never named in the series) Commander Morton gets one line, and he’s called by the name “Morrison” or something like that. Nelson is on hand through the whole book, but he’s not large and in charge like he usually is. He mostly hangs back and defers to Crane.

Chief Jones plays a much larger part than you’d expect here, and while his portrayal doesn’t really contradict anything from the show, it seems out of character. (The actor who played Jones - Henry Kulkey - died between seasons of the show, and was replaced by the better-known “Chief Sharkey.” Jones was never my favorite - God love him, he wasn’t a very good actor. Prior to the Seaview gig, he’d been a professional wrestler - so I was a bit annoyed that Sharkey wasn’t on hand. Dunno why that bugged me as a kid, but it did.)

This is basically Captain Crane’s story. He’s front-and-center through the whole thing, and while I miss the give and take between him and Nelson from the series, I actually find it kind of refreshing to see him in the fore here. Towards the end of the series, it seemed like Crane couldn’t make a decision or even match his socks without the Admiral alongside him.

The whole ‘ancient civilization beneath the sea’ thing was pretty good, and though they’d already hid the ‘secret seabase’ thing several times in the first season of the show, those were all new and run by the Soviets or The League of Bald Men, or whatever. This was a much cooler, generally interesting way of doing it. It’s a bit disappointing to see them put the genie back in the bottle at the end. I like that they were tied to an actual civilization, and an actual myth, even if it was underdeveloped.

One thing I particularly liked was that this civilization was secret, but not at all cut off. They regularly sent people up to the surface world to get education, or just keep tabs on the state of the world. The Old King was educated at Oxford, and maintains British Citizenship, just in case. Obviously, all these people keep a low profile, but it was still pretty cool to think about. More development than the book really required, but it added a lot of texture.

I also liked the disparity in technology. There were ways ‘we’ were more advanced (Nuclear power) and ways in which we were far behind them (the ability to manipulate gravity and focus magnetic fields). The explanation of their sub being so huge is because it requires more primitive power supplies.

So if they’re sending people topside, why don’t they have Nuclear Power? Quoth the king: “You people don’t teach that openly in your schools. It’s a closely guarded secret.” Fair enough!

The politics of the Minoans is a little unbelievable, and delivered in an info-dump, thereby allowing a jiffy-pop resolution to one central conflict. I suppose going into more detail would have made the book too long, or perhaps they just feared it would have bored kids. I have a hunch the author had more in mind for that, but ended up having to squish it down to the absolute minimum coherent size.

“Cathy Kinney” turns up as Crane’s regular girlfriend. He hasn’t got one in the series. In the movie which predated all of this, he was engaged to marry “Cathy Connors,” (a pre-Jeanie Barbara Eden in full-on Hubba-Hubba mode) and I got the feeling this was intended to be the same character in some form.

There’s a really nice touch where Nelson gives all the acquired information on the Minoan Earthquake Gun to the Navy by radio when phoning in an air strike (Which fails), and later, after the crisis is over, he utterly regrets it. Has an attack of paranoia about it, actually: It’s just too big a weapon to trust anyone with, and military secrets are easily stolen.

We’re told that “The World is at Peace” in this book, so they know the mystery sub can’t be from a foreign power. This doesn’t fit with the show, where the world was perpetually at the brink of WWIII. Likewise, the notion of sea colonization doesn’t really track. While there are some outposts in the series, clearly no one’s living down there full time yet. The book mentions that there’s now a “Guatemala Canal” supplementing the Panama one.

Basically, it’s not a bad little book. Frankly, it’s better than it needs be, and it doesn’t talk down to its intended Tween audience.

My one real qualm is the Banks character. He’s almost like a Mary Sue. He’s in nearly every scene, he asks all the important questions, he comes up with the final solution, he’s just too smart. In short, he does everything Nelson usually does in the show. In fact, he does most of the stuff that most of the characters apart from Crane do. The obvious reason for this is that Jones doesn’t have a feel for the regular characters, so rather than make them act goofy or attribute stuff to them that contradicts the series, he adds this character to do the important stuff. Worse still, Banks has no real personality of his own. This isn’t a deal-breaker, but it’s a bit annoying. It’s like going to a high school reunion to hang out with your long-lost friends, and having some guy you never met continually breaking in and monopolizing the conversation and finishing everyone else’s stories.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS BOOK?

Sure, why not! Voyage was always pretty right-wing.

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