Chapter by Chapter features me reading one chapter of the selected book at the time and reviewing it as if I were reviewing an episode of a TV show or an issue of a comic. There will be spoilers if you haven’t read to the point I have, and if you’ve read further I ask that you don’t spoil anything further into the book. Think of it as read-along book club.
Last time Grant and the readers were finally told what the whole deal was with the CMDF and the core of the story that isn’t really a spoiler considering how many stories were homages and parodies of the movie this is adapting in the first place. The mission is to get rid of a blood clot. Grant is here to catch a supposed traitor or double agent. And like it or not he’s about to go inside a human being the hard way. So how long will it take before we finally start running around Benes’ bloodstream?
Chapter 5: Submarine
Not in this chapter, but it makes a form of sense. I was kind of worried when I noticed Asimov padded out the pre miniaturization scene considering I remember the actual miniaturization scene felt dragged out even if logically it made sense to show each step leading up to be small enough to be injected into Benes. But there’s only one moment in this chapter that concerned me, which I’ll get to later. For the most part there was some more character development.
Grant is trying to learn all he can about what they’re all about to go through. He learns of the rift between the military and medical “factions”, how the latter would rather the miniaturization process be used to benefit rather than destroy. For whatever reason Asimov decides to make the two generals, Carter and Reid, former friends while in the movie the political side of things was reduced to Our Side and The Other Side. Apparently the three medical people on board were part of a group who signed a paper protesting the military uses, and Reid was at least vocally in favor, driving a wedge between him and Carter. I don’t think that was necessary and wasn’t really shown in the movie.
A lot of this is exposition through Michaels nervous rambling, but at the risk of spoilers he could also be trying to shift blame away from himself and onto the others, while at the same time trying to put it all on Duval. It’s sneaky but if you pay attention you can catch it, although Reid claims to Carter at the beginning of the chapter that he personally hasn’t signaled anyone in the crew out. And yet note that Michaels only mentions in passing that he signed the petition and comes up with excuses why Owens (who we also learn is the only member of the crew with family, a wife and two daughters while the others are single and Michaels is divorced without kids) and Cora are not likely suspects. It’s like he’s trying to put all the suspicion on Duval, while Reid says he hasn’t singled anyone out. At least in the book since in the movie both Reid and Michaels debriefed him at the same time and that’s where the Duval suspicion began.
Basically this chapter tells us more about Owens, the Proteus and how it works, and furthers examining the military versus medical divide…although I’m not certain why Asmiov keeps writing this as a zero-sum game. Yes, the military would see this as a way to continue the arms race, both versions using miniaturization as a stand-in for the nuclear arms race. (The Proteus is even nuclear-powered, which is how they’ll be tracked, and there’s an extended sequence of the external staff preparing to monitor both the surgical team and Benes’ vitals.) But why wouldn’t the medical division also be allowed to pursue the technology, although they wanted to make it a joint project with other nations. That’s kind of hard if you know not-USSR is planning to use it for war and taking over more territory.
I don’t hate this internal struggle, mind you, but it had no bearing on the movie. On the other hand, it gives a further reason for the later betrayal than being a traitor, as Michaels points out. Perhaps our traitor is actually doing this to keep the arms race in check, so that neither side can extend the length of time you can be miniature. But as has been noted before, nobody is certain if Benes was trying to keep the secret away from the Other Side, help “Our Side”, or maintaining the stalemate. Outside of Reid and Carter’s former friendship it does add some extra layers to the story beyond “us” versus “them” by shifting the potential label to The Other Side of the other opinion.
The layout as Asimov writes it doesn’t feel the same to me. While Owen’s control station in the bubble remains, the laser doesn’t appear to be in a different room (I wonder if there’s a bathroom?) and Grant is seated in the front, where there weren’t any seats. It was where the doctors planned the route. Also in the movie Michaels showed the chart to Owens through something akin to an overhead projector, just to Owens’ screen on the control panel so he could properly map the route. Instead Owens has his own set of maps. Minor nitpick.
What really bothers me here is the treatment of Cora. Carter doesn’t want her on the mission because she’s a woman. I can’t tell if Grant is trying to treat her different because she’s a woman or trying to flirt with her, and I will be disappointed if they become a couple. See, Cora being a woman was almost a non-issue in the movie despite being played by one of Hollywood’s biggest sex symbols at the time. Here it’s pretty much obsessed over that she’s a woman, which may have been giving voice to the struggle at the time, but I’d rather see the woman assistant treated properly rather that be reminded of how improper she would be treated in the hopes that the former would grow on people and women would be treated better, at least in the next generation or two. Accentuate the positive, I say.
Overall, I think the padding out did serve the story. It goes into motivation for the traitor outside of working for the enemy, making said traitor’s actions a bit less Cold War related without necessarily ignoring the potential reason. Owens gets even more development he didn’t have in the movie. And Michaels is interesting to watch. The only unfortunate part is the aforementioned treatment of Cora (in fact she’ll be the only character who is referred to by her first name while none of the men are) and the fact that Grant doesn’t take a moment to ask Duval about his part in this mission like he does the others. It’s still interesting thus far, and we’ll see where this is headed as our review continues.
Next Time: Miniaturization