The temperatures crept up over 100° this week and so that limited some of my activities. To pass the time during the worst parts of the day, I found myself reading The Atlantic Abomination by John Brunner. It was on a stack of books that I had forgotten about. The novel was first published in 1960, but I read the pocket-sized ACE edition from 1969. It is a slender novel, I think; only 128 pages, but printed in that miniscule font on yellowed paper. Overall, this is not a perfect novel. However, the “wow-factor” of the parts that were well done overshadows the not-so-good parts of the novel.
The first chapter is amazingly well written. Not only that, but the cover artist, Ed Emshwiller, drew the cover based on that first chapter and his vision matches the absolute horror and awesomeness of Brunner’s story. I do not know all the details of the publishers’ history, but there exists an edition of the novel from 1977 that is by ACE and/or Grosset & Dunlap. The cover art on that edition is uncredited and, in my opinion, not as amazing as Emshwiller’s original artwork. I do not usually talk a whole lot about cover art, but the strikingly horrifying nature of Emshwiller’s cover/Brunner’s concept is really worth it to a reader to take a few moments to admire and consider.
Feeling roasted and listless it would take a great chapter to get me really interested in a book. Frankly, if the second chapter and the first chapter had been switched, I likely would have tossed this book aside. In fact, I would believe that this first chapter was a piece that Brunner just belted out all at once and did not have a storyline for, but had a great idea and got it down and then did not quite know what to do with it. Publishing being what it was, I suspect he built it into a somewhat more “commonplace” storyline and it became a novel not unlikely to be found in the 1960s. The first chapter, though, is five stars. Masterfully [pun!] horrific and utterly merciless.
The remainder of the novel has its ups and downs. Generally, its pacing is a little off and at points it does feel like the writer is not sure where he wants to go with his storyline and is stalling for time. So, current day, oceanography exploration with really high-end technology. A slightly awkward, but not untoward hint of human drama/romance. Vague feelings about the Russians and a vague societal competitiveness. Predictably, the little submariner pod goes very, very deep into the ocean and something goes “wrong.” Predictably, humans taking major actions based on assumptions or pressed at deadlines causes bad decisions. Mayhem is unleashed.
There are two female characters in the book, both are scientists. One, Eloise, is very marginal. The second, Mary, is a main character. She is often present in scenes and she is engaged in matters and not superficial, but at the same time, she still remains irrelevant. I am not the most sensitive to reading characters, but even I noticed that there was this effort to include Mary all the time – but for no real reason at all.
Anyway, the storyline rather runs to the humans-all-band-together deal and readers know that monsters and aliens are apt to underestimate human ingenuity. So, the storyline grinds along with humans working together to stumble upon solutions, which they, basically, do because they all work together and science never fails. The President of the USA admits to as much in the last page or two of the novel. Go team human! Go science!
The ending is lame. I have to say that I do not know what I expected, but I did want something more spectacular and thrilling than what was delivered. I guess the author was done writing it at that point and enough was enough. I just feel like it is unbalanced compared with how we started this novel – I want the ending that the beginning promised me.
A good read because, as they say, they don’t make ’em like this anymore. Very good first chapter, as I have said, and general easy reading the rest of the way. Nothing standout, but nothing utterly atrocious. Definitely something “fun” to consider for those that like catastrophic science fiction or scary alien science fiction.