Book Review: “Fantastic Voyage” by Isaac Asimov (1966)

[Classic Reads 2012-04]

“Translated into the feminine, ‘tired’ means ‘disheveled.'” (p.8)

For Classic Reads number 4 this year, I chose Fantastic Voyage, the book Issac Asimov wrote shortly after the film of the same name debuted in 1966. Though this book is not really a ‘classic’ in the proper sense of the word, it is one that has been sitting on my shelf for too long, simply demanding to be read. I simply had to throw it into the pile this year.

Isaac Asimov is a fine and prolific author, if you like the sci-fi sort of thing. I have always been a Star Wars fan, but beyond that, sci-fi has never been my favorite. I figure that if I’m going to waste time watching a movie or TV series, or if I’m going to spend time reading a book, I want to justify the wastage by saying that I’m actually learning something throughout. Sci-fi offers very little in genuinely useful information, which is why I generally stick to the travel/adventure genre, or at the very least historical fiction. Picking up Fantastic Voyage was like picking up a biology book with action scenes, which meant I could justify my time spent by learning a little something along the way. I am glad I did, because I really enjoyed the book and would actually recommend it to readers today (so long as they don’t expect to learn much biology). One thing I found off-putting, however, was the chapter titles. Although I knew that the Proteous was not going to be destroyed inside the heart, just seeing that a later chapter was titled “Lungs” took all suspense out of the heart for me. I don’t want to find out how a thriller is going to progress by simply by scanning chapter titles. ‘Cliffhangers’ aren’t very effective over 3-foot ravines.

After watching the film, I did get my hands on a copy of the 1966 film (which has always been touted as ‘a Raquel Welch flick’ more than anything else, though she is hardly the star). Like most sane people, I found the book to be far better than the film, though Fantastic Journey must be placed in a separate category than most others. As mentioned above, the book was based off the movie, and for good reason: the movie did not make much sense without the context offered by the book! This reminds me of another prime example of the movie-turned-book, 2001: A Space Odyssey. As I watched the Stanley Kubrick film during my teen years, I kept working through the “What the heck is going on here!?” thought process. I left watching that film thinking I was smarter for having watched it, yet dumber because I had no idea what I was supposed to have learned. It was not until I read Arthur C. Clarke’s novel of the same title that everything clicked. After finishing the book, I watched Kubrick’s film again and was blown away by how crafty a director he was. That film and book, of course, teach some pretty nasty Nietzsche-like heresies, but the fact remains: the book was much more important than the film. And I believe that the same goes for Fantastic Journey.

Left to the imagination, Asimov’s book was pretty exciting, though the 1966 film left much to be desired. While the film did have some pretty awesome special effects for its day, a remake could make the story really come alive. To remake the movie, however, would involve some pretty in-depth rewriting as well, for the writers would have to worry about trading in the ridiculously male-dominated workplace of the 60s for something a bit more modern. In the ’66 film, the women in the science lab worked best when they were toweling dry a surgeon’s head—but even then, they managed to fail in that responsibility as well. I don’t think modern movie-goers would appreciate such weaker-vessel sentiments for their scientists on the silver-screen, so it would be interesting what drama the new screenwriters can conjure up.

All in all, I liked the book and would recommend it to someone looking for a light adventure novel. The movie is worth watching if you are into old sci-fi flicks, but not really worth your time otherwise. And that’s true even if you are a big Raquel Welch fan.

©2012 E.T.

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