Thursday, July 17, 2014

Book Review: The Secret Sea

Book Review: 'The Secret Sea' by Thomas F. Monteleone

3 / 5 Stars 

‘The Secret Sea (222 pp.) was published in May, 1979, by Popular Library; the cover artwork is by Clyde Caldwell.

Bryan Alexander is a physics professor who has bullshitted his way into a job as an English professor at a small college in Maryland. There, he enjoys a comfortable, but boring and unfulfilling, existence. Then he gets a letter from a lawyer in Vermont: it seems Alexander’s Aunt Agatha has died and left him her country estate, along with a sizable amount of money.

Alexander embarks for Vermont, planning to use his inheritance to embark on his lifelong dream of leading a life of adventure, much as would a Victorian-era gentleman explorer. But his ambitions soon take on a different cast when he discovers a chest stored in the attic of his Aunt’s house. Within the chest is a journal written by one Durham Kent; a Durham Kent who, in the 1860s, claimed to have traveled through an interdimensional gateway located in the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.

Kent’s passage through the gateway had led him to an alternate world, in which the submarine Nautilus sailed the oceans, captained by a man named Nemo. And, after returning to ‘our’ dimension, Kent had related his fantastic tale to an amiable Frenchman named Jules Verne……

Half-disbelieving Durham Kent’s journal, an intrigued Bryan Alexander decides to charter a sailboat and travels to the location in the Atlantic where Kent claimed the so-called ‘fluxgate’ existed. And to his mingled surprise and excitement, Alexander does indeed encounter a fluxgate….and in due course, he will meet Captain Nemo….and his sworn adversary, the maniacal Robur the Conqueror….

‘The Secret Sea’ represents an early work of Steampunk, although the sub-genre and its label didn’t really exist in 1979, the year of its publication. Author Monteleone stays true to the legend of Nemo and his submarine as outlined in Verne’s novels, taking some liberties with the identity and origin of Robur in order to provide the narrative with a suitable villain. The middle segments of the novel lag a bit, but things pick up in the last three chapters and the story finishes on a satisfactory note.

‘Secret Sea’ isn’t a memorable classic of sf, but it is an entertaining read, and displays an economy of length that is sorely lacking in the 600-page, series-fixated novels that dominate contemporary Steampunk. It’s worth picking up from the used-book shelves.

No comments: