Rafeeq O.'s Reviews > Undersea City

Undersea City by Frederik Pohl
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Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson's 1958 Undersea City, the final installment of their Undersea Trilogy, is another decent 3.5- to 4-star piece of young-adult '50s science fiction. Here Jim Eden, nephew of the famed Stewart Eden who invented the electrically powered Edenite molecular armor crucial to this civilization's undersea cities, mining, and travel, is still a cadet in the Sub-Sea Fleet along with his sidekick, Bob Eskow. This time they are joined by fellow cadet Harley Danthorpe, the sneering and exceedingly annoying son of an exceedingly two-dimensional father who is a big businessman and council member of Krakatoa Dome, "one of the newest of the undersea ciites" (1958 Gnome printing, page 12). The ever-needling Danthorpe, claiming to have the "inside drift," predicts that the three cadets will be sent to Krakatoa Dome on a mission so secret that even he doesn't know what it is.

Eskow's "face seem[s] to turn a degree paler" at this (page 12), for this city "south of the famous volcanic island in the Sunda Strait, three miles down" (page), is--for some reason--located "near the great geological fault" (page 13) that caused the catastrophic explosion "back a hundred years and more ago" (page 13). Soon afterward, Jim is called to the Commandant's office to hear of the probable--or is it only possible?--death of his beloved uncle, whose business model has always been to have a fortune one moment and then gamble the entirety the next moment on some great invention for the betterment of humanity. Oh, but there have been some mysterious undersea quakes, in which Stewart Eden, "if he be still alive," is accused of being "somehow involved" (page 24), and--

Well, hopefully the modern reader will be using a more recent reprint rather than the original Gnome printing, because the blurbs on front and back jacket flaps of the 1958 version are incredibly spoilericious. It's hard to imagine why a marketing department would give away plot twist after plot twist the way this does... Suffice it to say now that suspicions arise, danger ensues, just desserts are gotten, and of course at the last minute the good guys win, as they should in a 1950s juvie.

Is the book great? No, but it is pretty good. True, the writing does not always feel as if it had been edited for style quite as tightly as it should have, with repetitions of certain adjectives occurring within lines of each other and whatnot. Now and then characters' reactions are a little stagey, too. And by the end there two instances of, essentially, court martial or even treason offenses--one of which committed for the highest of motives, one committed for the lowest--that are explained away and smoothed over with about one seventh as much care than would have been shown in a YA by Robert A. Heinlein or even Lester Del Rey.

Still, for the genre and for the era, Pohl and Williamson's Undersea City is worth the read even as a standalone. And for anyone who has enjoyed either of the other two novels of the Undersea Trilogy--a trilogy whose novels can, if necessary, be approached out of sequence without harm or confusion--there certainly is no reason to stop before all three are done.
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Reading Progress

August 2, 2020 – Started Reading
August 4, 2020 – Finished Reading
August 9, 2020 – Shelved

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