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Forum nameReading Challenges, 2010
Topic subject44. Under Pressure by Frank Herbert
Topic URLhttp://www.fmwriters.com/community/dc/dcboard.php?az=show_topic&forum=505&topic_id=6&mesg_id=815
815, 44. Under Pressure by Frank Herbert
Posted by alissaameth, Fri Jun-18-10 01:44 PM
Science Fiction / War / Psychology?, 220 pages.

Originally titled: The Dragon in the Sea.

This was a pretty decent read--I really enjoyed parts of it, and those parts made it worth the time spent. (It's a quick read, though.)

The story is set in a future America (past 2021, at least) that is in a prolonged war with Russia. (Now that I think about it, I'm not actually sure if Russia was spelled out, but it's obvious.) New submarine technology has developed, producing subtugs: submarines that sneak into enemy territory to drill for and steal their oil. That's where the war part comes in, but it really isn't the focus of the novel. I think the war backdrop is there to set a sense of paranoia and danger.

Each subtug is manned by four men, and the military has had trouble with these men going insane. The main character, John Ramsey (a psychologist), is assigned to a subtug to find out why. He's trained in a hurry to be an electronics officer, and is to replace the electronics officer who went mad aboard the Ram. He is briefed about his new crew-mates: Captain Sparrow, First Mate Bonnet and Engineering Officer Garcia. (Garcia is, by far, my favorite character.) His job is to monitor Captain Sparrow's sanity, and to keep an eye open for a spy among the three. The Russians have been gaining an upper hand, and the Americans (especially the submariners) need a morale boost. Therefore, Ramsey is charged with making sure that this mission succeeds and that its members pull through without cracking.

I'll start with what I thought were weaknesses.

1. It took 30 pages to hook me. Once it got to that point, I actually wanted to know what was going to happen. Until then, I was just reading because I have the time. The beginning consists largely of set up on land: Ramsey's called into a meeting, briefed on the situation and given his orders. He trains for weeks to get ready. His department head comes and talks to him a lot... Pretty boring. I don't think it's necessarily about the content, though. (I mean, half the movie Batman Begins is set-up for becoming Batman, and I wasn't bored by that.) I think what made it boring was that I just didn't care for Ramsey, the main character. (I warmed up to him towards the end of the book, but how he was portrayed in the beginning just didn't interest me.)

2. The last 5 pages. I think the story itself ended well (as far as how everything turned out), but the last five pages were so boring. Stuff on land again: Ramsey returning to his department head and having a chat. Gah! It could've gone out more powerfully... Somehow.

3. At times, the writing seemed very... simplistic? Choppy? Abrupt? Something along those lines. This surprised me, because I love his Dune series. (The reason I read this book was because I wanted to see how some of his stand-alone books compared to the Dune books. Now I want to re-read those and see what I think of the writing, rather than just the story. Which is awesome. :) )

Now, for the positives! Though I probably won't read this again, the positives did really outweigh the negatives, in my opinion.

1. The four crew members. I didn't like Ramsey so much, but once he was in close quarters with these three other guys in the subtug, things became much more interesting. The interactions between these four--dynamics, suspicions, jokes, etc.--kept me turning the pages. Ramsey was told that Garcia is suspected of being a spy, so there's that situation to keep an eye on. Then there's the fact that the three of them are unsure about Ramsey--is he a spy? Is he Security auditing them or something? They know that something's up because they can tell that he's not really an electronics officer, but they don't know what it is.

2. Themes! I don't know why the title was changed, but I think "Under Pressure" is a good, representative title. Pressure is definitely a theme--how much pressure the subtugs can take and how much pressure the men running them can take. You take these four guys--with all the interesting relations between them--and stick them together under the ocean and send them on a dangerous mission. It's a tense atmosphere. Then there's the sanity/insanity theme: one of my favorite passages is when Captain Sparrow tells Ramsey his definition of sanity. (It may sound boring, but I was interested!) There was an underlying current of psychology... not using any jargon, but just the idea that Ramsey is always analyzing the three he's with, as well as himself. (How he responds to pressure, among other things.) Religion was also a theme. Garcia was Catholic, Sparrow and Bonnet Protestant and Ramsey a psychologist. ;) (No harm meant! I'm just joking! But it's clear that he interprets the others' religions in more "scientific" terms.) The role religion played in the story was interesting. It wasn't didactic at all.

3. How the story played out. I'm never the kind of person who knows what's going to happen before it happens, or who has the bad guy pegged from the beginning. I just see what happens... and this didn't disappoint me. I was scared of how it would turn out, and who would be the spy--I didn't want any of them to be the spy! Also, I was interested in seeing how he would deal with Garcia, since he's flagged as a possible spy from the beginning. The way I saw it, there was either two ways to go: either he was the spy (and he gave it away at the beginning and we wouldn't be surprised), or he was not the spy (and the statement at the beginning would seem like a cheap red-herring). I didn't think either option would be good for the story, but Herbert ended up picking one of them but circumventing the negative outcome I imagined. Good!

So, I enjoyed reading this book. I do recommend it if you're interested in psychology or the idea of four guys trapped with each other for over a week in a small space. I don't recommend it if you're looking for a gritty war story, a lot of intrigue or a lot of action.