The Dragon in the Sea (A.k.a. Under Pressure) - Novel by Frank Herbert

The Dragon in the Sea

By The Archivist | The Library | 2 Aug 2021

(The Library: Book Review) When I decided to read what I felt was an important piece of science-fiction, I decided to look at some of the other works that the author had written. This is what led me to explore the Herbert section at the book store. And there were many novels. I picked two and I have to admit that the cover of a book influences me. Unfortunately, I am also influenced in the same way towards cryptocurrencies. If the icon looks cool or the name sounds nice, I have a preference, it seems to buy that coin or token. To go even deeper in this analysis, I should mention that if the colour of the token is one of my favourite colours, I somehow get a preference, again, for that one. Part of me likes Chainlink just because it is a blue hexagon. Human psychology is full of those "preferences". It is what makes us have personality. The following cover (by Alain Brion) struck a string in my personal tastes and I bought it and read it and liked it.

Under Pressure - Dragon in the Sea - Dragon sous la Mer (Frank Herbert)

  • A good submarine drama, obviously set under the sea
  • Interesting characters and tension build-up
  • Interesting subjects
  • Short (250 pages)
  • Too short
  • Feels maybe a little bit experimental? The author will go on to write his masterpiece

Horizontal Bar Blue - Intelli Gaming

The Dragon in the Sea (French: Le Dragon sous la Mer) has also been published under the name of "Under Pressure" in the Astounding Magazine. This happened in 1955 but a year later, in 1956, it was published as a standalone book. The author, of course, is Frank Herbert. I wanted to review this work first before moving to review The Eyes of Heisenberg, which I associate together with The Dragon in the Sea.

I did read a French translation of the novel but if I had to read it again, I would read it its original language of course. Reception of the novel was mixed however my personal appreciation is on the positive side. For instance, some have said that the characterisation was poor and felt like stereotypes all along. Others have influenced my perspective by saying that it feels experimental and I agree. Religion and Psychology are very present here, as they  undoubtedly were in Frank Herbert's mind at the time. Those concepts will be revisited in the review of his world famous series of novels by the name of Dune.

“Each of us is the enemy [...] to the other and to himself. That's what I mean: I'm the enemy within myself. Unless I master that enemy, I always lose.”
― Frank Herbert, Under Pressure

While I did not remember much about the novel before reviewing it, the names quickly came back to my mind. Also, some of the science-fiction I was craving for was indeed present here and reading it again reminds me of why I love those aspects so much; They make me dream of a possible future and its applications. Some of the technology on display here is such as: Plasteel, Magnetic Boots, a futuristic submarine and electronics experts. On the psychological side of things, beyond the previously-discussed themes of isolation and tensions rising, the author also mentions the existence of the Psychology Bureau. It is referred to as the BuPsych in the novel. So as in the real world we live in, psychology is a also an aspect of war, here in this novel.

Since I love the genre and since this was a quick read to learn more about the author, I do recommend reading The Dragon in the Sea. It is a submarine drama with tension between the characters so you should know what to expect. Countless movies about submarines exist and examine similar tensions as we see here. When the survival of people is at hand, character tends to boil up! It is like a pressure cooker: Keep everybody in an air-tight space and when the situation gets dangerous, it feels like this could explode at any moment. Just to name a few to provide further similarities (and to keep this readable, I removed the dates, directors, authors from the list):

  • Das Boot
  • Crimson Tide
  • Hunt for Red October
  • Ice Station Zebra
  • Torpedo Run
  • The Enemy Below
  • Run Silent, Run Deep

The titles themselves give a visual representation of the themes explored in the novel. They are not directly related but just share a common theme: People stuck together in a confined space, fighting the enemy without and, the enemy within. And on top of that, yet another theme explored in this novel, there is a permanent state of war. Obviously, the historical period when the author writes this is right after the end of World War II and on the onset of the Cold War. In 2014 I read Colder War by Marin Katusa and I will review it in due time. The Dragon in the Sea is set in the near future, on Earth, with nations as we know them today.

Those themes of paranoia and of constant war have been looked at before on this blog in the reviews of Nineteen Eighty Four and LOTF (Lord of the Flies). Where Nineteen Eighty Four takes an authoritarian perspective on maintaining a permanent war, mostly for economic reasons, the Dragon in the Sea and LOTF both set the enemy as a firm part of everyone. This is what is meant by the expression "the enemy within". In this novel, not only do the protagonists have to deal with a cold war above the surface, they may or may not have to deal with a traitor amongst their own ranks. And on top of that, every man in the crew also has to wrestle with his own demons.

I enjoyed the technology, the discussions around the topics of submarines, torpedoes and the author's wise words. Frank Herbert worked as a navy photographer during his life and his hands-on experience shows in the details of his descriptions. If you're in the middle of reading Dune and start to get sick of so much heat and sand, maybe this novel will provide a welcome change of scenery. So for all the reasons mentioned here, I recommend the Dragon in the Sea.


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The Archivist
The Archivist

The Archivist provides original content related to crypto, global macro trends and information, technology and other fun stuff! Thanks for your time!

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