Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 16, 2018


Secret Under Antarctica by Gordon R. Dickson (1963)

With apologies to Donovan:  First there is a kraken, then there is no kraken, then there is...

Turns out there is no kraken, but what then could have made a twenty foot slashing wound on the giant blue whale?  Thirteen-year-old Robbie Hoenig believes a kraken exists; his father, a marine zoologist, disagrees and demands proof before he will accept the existence of the mythical beast.

It's an undetermined year n the near future and Doctor Hoenig, a member of the International Department of Fisheries, Salt Water Research Division, has taken his vessel to Antarctica to research how cow blue whales "talk" to their whales calves.  To aid in the research, Hoenig uses Control Caps, devices that allow animals to be controlled (of sorts) through pleasure and fear impulses.  Robbie is allowed to come on the trip as a reward for his part in capturing Vandals who invaded a research station located off the west coast of Mexico -- which happened in the first book of this juvenile series, Secret Under the Sea.

An alarm sounded indicating that Blue Mountain Bill, a member of the whale pod that Hoenig has been studying, was in extreme stress.  Motoring out to the scene, they discovered the large wound on the whale -- the wound that Robbie was convinced had been made by a kraken.  Robbie's father calms the giant beast and treats the gaping wound with some sort of near-future medical stuff.  Returning to their vessel, the two discover that it had been burgled.  They also discover their friend Mr. Lillibulero, a small wiry Scot who is an operative of the International Bureau of Police.  Lilliburero had been tracking a group of Tropicans when he had boarded the research vessel just shortly after it had been burglarized.  Missing were a large number of Control Caps.

Just who are the Tropicans?  They are a dangerous group of fanatics led by a (genuinely) mad scientist named Brownlee Patterson Waub.  Waub's goal is to create a tropical Earth, a warm paradise from pole to pole, as well as recreating the ancient continent of Gondwanaland by bringing South America, Africa, Australia, and India to merge with Antartica to form once again a massive continent.  The specious plan does not make sense and is completely unworkable, but since when did that stop a mad scientist?  The very real first step in the plan is workable however:  to destroy the Antarctic ice shelf.

Now aware of the danger, Hoenig decides to send Robbie home by way of McMurdo Station.  Lillibulero will fly Robbie to McMurdo and then return to continue his hunt for the Tropicans.  This best laid plan went gang alay, when the Tropicans shoot down the plane.  Robbie parachutes out but does not know whether Lillibulero was able to escape on time.

Alone and stranded on Antactic ice, Robbie is chased not only by the Tropicans but by a deadly leopard seal.  He is captured, escapes, and is recaptured as he learns that Waub plans to destroy the ice shelf within twenty-four hours, potentially killing millions of people...

The stakes are high, but of course Robbie prevails.  (This is the second book of a three-book series, you know.)

Gordon R. Dickson was one of the most entertaining science fiction writers in the last half of the twentieth century.  Inducted into the Science fiction Hall of Fame shortly before his death, Dickson won three Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, and an August Derleth Award as well as being presented with a Skylark Award for his contribution to science fiction.  He published some sixty novels and half again as many collections, along with a number of anthologies.  Dickson published well over 150 short stories.  The Robbie Hoenig trilogy were his only foray into juvenile fiction.

So what about this book?  It's dated, flawed, awkward, and predictable.  It's also entertaining as hell and well researched.  As a thirteen-year-old, Robbie makes thirteen-year-old mistakes but tries to learn from them.  Dr. Hoenig is a stereotypical concerned and dedicated scientist.  Lilliburero is a tough and eccentric hero who injects a bit of humor and warmth into the story.  And what of our mad scientist, Brownlee Patterson Waub?

According to Liliiburero, "[I]t was only a notion with him at first.  But then he started acting as if it might be true, and the' more involved he got, the bigger excuses he had to make t'justify it.  Until finally nothing would do but he must try to change the world to make it fit his own ideas."

And according to Robbie's father, "[I]t shows what can come of shutting your eyes to true facts rather than give up a belief in something you happen to wish were true."

Sounds like someone from today's headlines rather than the future.


  1. I loved SECRET UNDER THE SEA, the first book in the series, more than any other sf novel I read as a child...since Dickson didn't want to sell every right they could get to Scholastic, I wasn't made aware that there were sequels. Perhaps I should finally read the remaining novels.

  2. Jerry, I need your new address for my Xmas card list!

  3. So good to see someone remembering this book. I belong to the Pittsburgh science fiction group Parsec and six years ago I reviewed this in our newsletter.