Secret Under the Sea

by Gordon R. Dickson
Series: Underseas 1
Reviewed date: 2018 Jan 26
128 pages
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cover art
cover art
cover art

I read Secret Under the Sea several times as a kid. I didn't remember much of the plot--just that Robby lives with his dad on a glass undersea research station, he has an experimental breed of trained dolphin for a best friend, and he explores the ocean with the help of a breathing lung that extracts oxygen from the water. When his dad leaves Robby for a few days in the care of a strange little man, the station is attacked by Vandals, and also Robby helps recapture an escaped Martian sea creature that walks along the sea bottom and beats up a killer whale with its giant fists.

Turns out that's pretty much the entire plot. It's the far-future year of 2013. Crime has been eliminated and there hasn't been a war in fifty years. Robby Hoenig lives with his parents in an undersea research station, and spends his days swimming with his pet dolphin, Balthasar. Robby's father, Dr. Hoenig, studies Martian sea creatures, which I guess is why he's on an undersea research station off the coast of Mexico.

Robby's mother is on vacation visiting her father when Robby's dad is suddenly called away on urgent government business. Robby thinks he can manage the station himself, but Dr. Hoenig is reluctant to leave a half-million dollar government laboratory in the hands of a twelve-year-old boy, "even if said twelve-year-old happens to be the eminent Robertson Allan Hoenig." He arranges for an old friend, Mr. Lillibulero, to watch over Robby and the station. Mr. Lillibulero is white just like Robby and Dr. Hoenig, but he's at least Scottish or Irish something (Robby can't quite place the accent) and he has a personality. That's a nice touch in a juvenile science fiction story from 1960. Mr. Lillibulero likes to announce his presence by singing a personal theme song, which shows an astounding amount of either hubris or self-confidence, and either way I love it. Dickson gives the musical notation, and it does not appear to be part of the traditional Lilliburlero melody.

No sooner is Dr. Hoenig gone than the station is attacked by Vandals.

Vandals are antisocial mal-adjusted individuals who can't cope with a modern society that has eliminated both major crime and war. The Vandals are white just like Robby and Dr. Hoenig and Mr. Lillibulero, but we know they're genuine bad guys because they have bushy beards. These Vandals have kidnapped a Martian sea badger and plan to release it near a beach, thus causing havoc and stirring up anti-Martian sentiment, which makes no sense but these are Vandals, after all. The Martian sea badger escapes, which is why the Vandals come to Robby's station--they know Robby's father is one of only a handful of scientists who has any experience with Martians and can help them recapture it.

Robby and Mr. Lillibulero escape into the water before the Vandals overrun the station. It's too far to swim to the coast for help, so they hide out in some rocks a short way from the station. It's here that they encounter a killer whale and the enormous Martian sea badger.

The Martian sea badger is a peaceful vegetarian, but he does have powerful fists and defends himself against the aggressive killer whale. Robby lures the sea badger back to the station by laying a trail of Martian plants along the seabed for the creature to follow. The Vandals capture Robby and Mr. Lillibulero, but a Mexican government boat shows up just in time to rescue everyone. Lieutenant Vargas of the Mexican Coast Guard has olive skin, so it turns out that in 2013 not everyone is white after all.

I loved the book when I was a kid. I read it to my eight-year-old son and he enjoyed it so much that I've ordered the sequels: Secret Under Antarctica and Secret Under the Caribbean.

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