Previous book reports have looked at novelization, novel adaptations of movies. This practice doesn’t get much love nowadays because of home video, television, and streaming services but before all of those they were the only way to relive a favorite movie unless it showed up in theaters again. Novelizations still interest me though because they’re often based on the latest possible draft of a script. There are often changes between the final script and what the author had available and it’s neat to spot those changes and wonder what came from the early draft and what the author put in to pad the book out or just personal choice.

When I saw the Fantastic Voyage novel on a bookshelf at my grandparents I was curious to read it. While at that point I never saw the movie I grew with the cartoon, the intro of which I’ve posted above. Granted the cartoon bares little resemblance to the movie but I didn’t know that at the time. Additionally the concepts of the movie have been homage and parody fodder in so many sci-fi and kids shows that I was kind of required to see the original story. However, it wasn’t my book and these grandparents lived two towns away. After they passed away and we were going through their stuff and I managed to procure the novel and saw the name on it: Isaac Asimov, one of the masters of science fiction. Not thinking he would “stoop” to a novelization I planned to read the book, but never got the chance until sometime into my adulthood…where I noticed it was in fact a novelization. So I decided to wait until I saw the movie.

Recently I was finally able to see the movie (if you want my thoughts on it that review was the first installment of my Finally Watched article series over on my other site), which meant I could finally read the book and do my usual “Chapter By Chapter” review. Now that this is complete I can finally do a review of the book as a whole rather than focus on each individual chapter.

I’ll try to keep my spoilers for the book and the movie limited, just in case I’m not the only one to not yet be exposed to either, but as a warning the Chapter By Chapter reviews do contain spoilers. However, the premise has shown up in so many other works it’s like not knowing what Romeo And Juliet is about at this point. Fantastic Voyage takes place in the future as envisioned by 1966. The Cold War is framed with “our side” and “the other side”, a possible allegory for Russia. (In fact Asimov would create a sequel set in the other side and it was in fact Russia, but countries are never named in this story.) Both sides have discovered the secret of miniaturization, but it comes at a time limit of one hour, not very useful for sneaking a military force across enemy lines. However, a scientist named Dr. Jan Benes has discovered the secret to increasing the time limit indefinitely. When he is comatose after an assassination attempt by the other side when Benes defects, a team of doctors, the agent who brought him over, and the inventor of the Proteus, the experimental submarine that they’ll use, go in to destroy the blood clot in his brain before he dies. However, one of them is a traitor and will stop at nothing to sabotage the mission. Can agent Charlie Grant uncover the threat…and does he even know it exists on an experimental mission into the human body?

While the movie is nothing I’d watch again unless I came across it, I very much enjoyed it. However, Asimov had a few issues with the screenplay he was given. With some hoops jumped through by his usual publisher and Bantam Books, who published this book, Asimov was allowed to fix what he saw were scientific flaws, to better explain the impossibilities with miniaturization as well as flesh out what one might see if they shrunk down into the human body, at the time an unexplored bit of sci-fi until the film was made. Outer space was quite common by now but inner space had never been utilized until Fantastic Voyage. And from my little dose of scientific knowledge the movie seemed okay to me, but Asimov’s ideas are not surprisingly welcome additions more often than not. This is what he wanted to fix and he did a good job at it.

Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage movie card (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unfortunately his characters didn’t fare so well. Asimov did improve Benes and Bill Owens (the sub creator and pilot), two characters who had no backstory or anything to them. By making Owens an old friend of Benes he fits into the story much better than just showing up out of nowhere like in the movie. Doctors Peter Duval and Michaels (no first name given in the movie, but Asimov names him Maximilian I believe..I’ll come back to that) and agent Grant were neither improved nor harmed in their counterparts.

The other four characters however do not fare as well. The two people in charge, General Carter and Colonel Reid, are put at odds as Asimov (or possibly the draft he was working from) added tension between the military and medical sides of the Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF for short), the latter believing this technology should only be used to help others rather than fight in a war. This was not in the movie and I think it was better off for it. I won’t get into my opinions here but I didn’t miss this added tension, later used to “defend” the actions of the villain in the story.

Then there is Cora Peterson, Dr. Duval’s assistant. I had no trouble remembering her first name unlike the other characters. Asimov decided to have the narration refer to the men by their last name the majority of the time. Only Charlie Grant has his first name mentioned enough times that I didn’t have to look it up or guess. Cora on the other hand is constantly referred to by her first name, setting her apart from the men in the minds of the readers instead of making her part of the group. (During my Chapter By Chapter review I referred to her by her last name like the other characters so she isn’t treated like “the girl” but just another part of the team.) In the movie, despite being played by Hollywood sex symbol Raquel Welch, Peterson was rarely treated different because of her gender, which is not only a source of sexist contention between the commanders but also unlike the movie Grant is constantly flirting with her. In the movie Grant only flirts with her once and for the rest of the movie she’s a passionate but professional woman and her being female is never really an issue. The movie does not end with the two of them getting together, but the book strongly hints that Grant “thawed the ice queen” and they may start dating, a cliché with female scientist characters and the handsome male lead the movie avoided and was better off for it. They also keep hinting that Peterson was attracted to Duval despite her insistence that it was just professional respect for a brilliant man. The movie mentions this once and that was it but it’s brought up many time in the book. This is my biggest problems with the books and outside of one scene with Michaels as well as Benes and Owens (fellow scientists with Asimov) the characters were handled better in the movie.

Overall the book was quite good. This is usually where I post my “stays” or “goes” decision but it’s a little different this time. The book is very old, with some a couple of pages loose and I’m not sure I could sell or donate it. Additionally I don’t know if one of my uncles might want it back and having it in my collection is sort of a badge of honor. It’s not just the only Isaac Asimov book I currently have (although I do have books inspired by his work enough to have his name in the title) but a story that plays a huge part in science fiction history. Since I’m not going to get the movie (weak stomach and all) the book is my next option. So at least for now this will remain in my library, but who knows what the future holds? Numerous sequels also exist besides the one Asimov wrote but I probably won’t track down those either. Is this adaptation worth reading? Yes, but see the movie first.