Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov
Jan Benes, a brilliant scientist from the Other Side, has knowledge that can deliver America a military advantage. Benes has decided to defect, but when the Americans smuggle Benes into the country, They shoot him. Though Benes survives, an inoperable blood clot threatens to end his life. But wait! There may be a new technology that could allow surgeons to remove the blood clot from inside Benes’ body.
Miniaturization is that secret new technology. Controlled by the Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF), miniaturization will allow “four men and one woman” in a submarine armed with surgical lasers to enter Benes’ blood stream. From within his arteries, the team hopes to destroy the clot, saving Benes’ life and delivering the Americans the technological advantages Benes has smuggled from the Other Side.
Fantastic Voyage is primarily told from the point of view of Grant, the spy who brought Benes into America. Grant, who “majored in football with a strong minor in girls,” is not really qualified to join the CMDF’s high tech expedition. He’s ordered to keep an eye on the scientists, especially Dr. Peter Duval, the team’s moody and demanding surgeon. After all, They could have agents anywhere capable of sabotaging the mission.
However, Grant mostly keeps his eyes on Duval’s assistant, Cora Peterson, who is frustrated by her figure because of “its apparent propensity for interfering with the proper understanding of her professional competence. It was for her ability she wanted wolf whistles (or their intellectual equivalent) and not for the sinuosity she couldn’t help.” Cora greatly admires Dr. Duval, though she slowly realizes that she has underestimated Grant.
(This love triangle is just as cringe inducing as it sounds, but it’s not as drawn out as Twilight’s.)
Once the team enters Benes’ bloodstream, they need to navigate eddies and whirlpools in Benes’ arteries and veins, avoid the dangerous white blood cells, and be on the alert for treachery and sabotage. There are many chapters that require persistence and improvisation and even some educational paragraphs about blood circulation and other organs.
Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage, published in 1966, was adapted from the screenplay of a film of the same name. Fantastic Voyage was almost certainly written for young teens when it was first published, but I’m not sure how that audience would respond to the novel today. Asimov’s relationships and dialogue are just as corny as one might expect, but today’s young adult novels routinely attempt and often achieve more sophistication than Asimov does here. Still, it’s not difficult to imagine a young Michael Crichton spending an afternoon reading Fantastic Voyage as it strongly recalls both Sphere and Micro.
Today, anyone who enjoys an adventure novel from the 1960s will probably enjoy Fantastic Voyage. Its use of acronyms, its professional-but-sultry female lead, and its enthusiasm for space age technology in the midst of the Cold War recall some aspects of Ian Fleming’s novels, particularly Moonraker. The premise is fun, and the movie, which stars Raquel Welch and four men, could probably be remade today. I might have loved Fantastic Voyage when I was 11, and it wasn’t hard at all to flip through over the course of a few hours now.
I’m not sure which I love more–Fantastic Voyage or its many permutations in pop culture.