Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Sometimes great authors write mediocre kids books

 Sometimes when I was reading The Undersea Trilogy by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson it felt like I was reading one of Heinlein’s juveniles. And then I’d read a section that reminded me that I wasn’t.

I actually picked up used copies of the three books ages ago but my recent interest in Pohl made me decide to read them. The three books describe the adventures of Jim Eden, a cadet in the sub-sea academy.

The books are written a very boy’s own adventure style and the plots are very by-the-numbers. I have read much, much worse books in the genre (I’ve read Stratemeyer syndicate books, for crying out loud) but the Undersea Trilogy still only rose to being okay in it’s best moments.






Of the three books, the first one, Undersea Quest, was the strongest. Jim gets caught up in a conspiracy to steal one of his uncle’s inventions that gets him kicked out of the academy. He has to save his uncle and keep the bad guys from making a profit. (Okay, they die but it’s not his fault) It all makes sense and the rules of the setting are consistent. 

The second book, Undersea Fleet, inexplicably introduces sea serpents and merfolk that don’t work with what I thought was the educational, hard science point of the series. More than that, these world shaking discoveries get one line in the last book. For me, this is where the bottom dropped out of the series. 

The last book, Undersea City, wasn’t as bad. However, its plot about a benign conspiracy to mitigate undersea earthquakes only holds together by a perverse lack of communication. One decent conversation could have ended a lot of the conflict.

In short, Pohl and Williamson, both very solid authors, feel like they totally phoned it in. If they had stopped with the first book, it would have been better.

I came out of the experiences with two takeaways:

Robert E. Heinlein really was amazing for his ability to write juveniles.

Juveniles and Young Adult are two different genres and I like Young Adult better.

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