Sunday, December 6, 2009

Under Pressure (or Dragon in the Sea) by Frank Herbert: a Book Review...

Again, as a gift from my father a few months back, I felt compelled to give this novel a chance despite my dissapointment in Hellstrom's Hive also reviewed here some time ago. Like HH, Under Pressure was originally titled somethine else (The Dragon in the Sea) when it was printed bit by bit in a SciFi magazine over a period of time. The book combines all these seperate pieces into a single tome.

As with HH, I came away from UP thinking "This is one of the supposed masters of SciFi??"

First off, its not SciFi at all but speculative fiction in that it mearly takes place a few years in the future (from its publication date in 1956) where oil has become extremely hard to find and the United States is locked in a bitter war with the (ostensibly) Soviet Bloc for what little remains. In order to meet its demands the U.S. sends out nuclear powered subs to drain secret undersea wells that have been located in Soviet held waters. Not a bad premise for a decent story—again, not unlike HH.

Like HH however, Herbert goes nowhere with the story. Sure the nuclear sub travels across the Atlantic, gets its oil and returns, all while facing this or that enemy patrol, nuclear reactor that falls over (???), an unknown spy on board and an unstable captain at the helm...Whooopie...Of course this is Herbert so one can hardly tell that there is a story going on underneath all the mumbo-jumbo made up words, terms, phrases, etc. that he uses to "describe" the internal workings of the sub and its crew. Herbert fails to describe in ANY detail virtually ANYTHING. Using his made up words that SOUND like something descriptive but aren't to try and convey a sense of importance to the reader as in "Johnny moved the critical widgetizer to the left which kept the hot nanofargin from causing the reactor to melt down!!" Wow...color me unamused. Thank goodness I've only been reading Herberts shorter stories and not been weighed down by his epic (and assuredly empty) creation Dune. Skip the book and watch The Hunt for Red October again. You'll be much better off...

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