Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from Film to Novel

Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage from Film to Novel

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov
First Edition: Houghton Mifflin, March 1966, Cover art Dale Hennesy
(Book Club edition shown)

Fantastic Voyage
by Isaac Asimov
Houghton Mifflin (239 pages, $3.95, Hardcover, March 1966)
Cover art Dale Hennesy

Isaac Asimov’s early novels were published over a period of just eight years, from Pebble In the Sky in 1950 to The Naked Sun in 1957, with linked collections like I, Robot and the Foundation “novels” along the way. Some of his early short stories, published in magazines as early as 1939, weren’t collected into books until the 1960s, but for the most part Asimov had stopped writing science fiction by the late 1950s, perhaps because of the collapse of the SF magazine market, or perhaps because he’d discovered that writing nonfiction books was more lucrative and easier. As Asimov fans were painfully aware of at the time, a spell of some 15 years went by before he published his next original novel, The Gods Themselves in 1972, to great acclaim and awards recognition. (And then yet another decade went by before Asimov returned to regular novel writing, with Foundation’s Edge and a string of following novels derived from his Foundation and Robot universes.)

—Except for a book called Fantastic Voyage, in 1966, which was a novelization of a movie script.

Such novelizations are by now a virtually extinct species, I think, but they were quite common in the 1970s especially where, once a movie left theaters, there was no way to experience it again except via proxy novel versions (and perhaps revival house movie theaters), especially of SF films. (Until the 1980s, when Video Cassette Recorders became widespread, and lots of old movies were issued on videotape, and novelizations became redundant.)

The year 1966 was early in the history of movie novelizations. Theodore Sturgeon had done Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea back in 1961, and by 1967 James Blish was doing narrative versions of Star Trek episodes, gathered into collections of 6 or 8 per book. There were other books associated with several TV shows in the mid-1960s, by Murray Leinster, Keith Laumer, and others, but these were not based on actual scripts and so are better described as “ties” or “tie-ins.” (If “novelizations” passed in the 1980s, there remain to this day hundreds of such “ties,” especially set in the Star Trek or Star Wars universes.)

Anyway, Isaac Asimov did the novelization of Fantastic Voyage, a big-budget film with spectacular special effects for its time. Why? The story is recounted in various places, but essentially his publisher asked, and talked him into it. Despite that Asimov had not written a novel in years. Despite that Asimov considered the job essentially hackwork. Nevertheless, Asimov agreed, on condition the book be published in hardcover (not just as an original paperback), and on the condition he could correct various scientific impossibilities in the film’s plot. He wrote the book quickly and so it was published some six months before the film opened, leading some to believe the film was based on Asimov’s novel. But it was the other way around.

Unlike my post about Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man, another story about miniature people, here I will explicitly revisit both the film and the book. Both to reconsider the idea of how miniature people makes sense or not, and to examine to what extent Asimov improved or otherwise changed the film’s narrative and rationale.

With that in mind, I’ll step through the film, and along the way comment on where Asimov expanded scenes, provided additional background, and offered scientific rationalization.

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov
Bantam Books, October 1966, Cover art from movie poster
(Scholastic Books edition shown)

Full disclosure: According to my records, the paperback edition of Asimov’s novel, shown here, was the first science fiction book I ever purchased. It’s an edition from Scholastic Book Services that provided, back in 1966, mail-orders from school classrooms, with delivery several weeks later. Editions for Scholastic at that time were identical to the publishers’ (paperback) editions, except that the price and publisher ID numbers were left off. I didn’t see the film until years later, in the VCR era.


To destroy a blood clot in the brain of a scientist whose mind holds the key to breaking a Cold War stalemate, a submarine with a crew of five is miniaturized to microscopic size and injected into the scientist’s body. As the sub travels to the brain to destroy the clot there with a laser, it experiences a series of accidents and attempted sabotages; the suspense is as much whether the mission will succeed (of course it will) but who of the five is the saboteur.


The film has spectacular special effects in its depictions of the interior of the human body, impressive even now, though the story is a suspense thriller with a one-crisis-a-minute plot. The Asimov novelization tries to rationalize the implausibility of miniaturization, expands on the mild sexual innuendo of the film (involving the one female crewman), adds analysis of the potential motivations of the saboteur, and finishes with a couple scenes confirming the success of the mission and about a potential romantic relationship.

Walkthrough of film and novelization, with [[ comments ]]

The film Fantastic Voyage (Wikipedia) was announced as “the most expensive science-fiction film ever made” (as of 1964 or 1965), with a budget of $5 million; its box office was $12 million. The film was notable not just for its special effects, but for the appearance, early in her career, of “international sex symbol” Raquel Welch (Wikipedia), and for its atonal score by Leonard Rosenman, with no music at all in the first four reels of the film, until the submarine enters the scientist’s body. Other stars in the film were Stephen Boyd, Edmond O’Brien, Donald Pleasance, Arthur O’Connell, and Arthur Kennedy, all familiar from other films of that era.

For this walk-through I’ll use Asimov’s chapter headings as dividers, but describe the film first, then Asimov’s version of the same scenes. A summary of the principal differences between film and book is at the end.

    • Ch1, Plane.
      • Movie: We see an airline in the night sky, descending toward landing.
      • Asimov: Several scenes added, introducing the major characters.
        • General Alan Carter [Edmond O’Brian in the film] talks with Colonel Donald Reid [Arthur O’Connell]. Each wears a CMDF insignia. They fret about there being only 72 minutes before the plane lands. The agent in charge is Grant [Stephen Boyd]; the target is Benes. Both sides are evenly matched [[ this is very Cold War-ish, but only in terms of “Ourselves” and the “Others” ]]. Benes is bringing new knowledge to end the stalemate, if he makes it.
        • [[ Since I’d read the book first, I’d thought that Benes was pronounced “beans.” I was 11 years old! In fact it’s an eastern European name, pronounced in the film as “ben-esh.” ]]
        • Reid then visits Dr. Michaels [Donald Pleasance], of the medical division, who babbles about the complex circulatory system. He has heard of Benes’ research and is skeptical. Maybe lying, maybe mistaken. They discuss the surgeon Duval [Arthur Kennedy] as an arrogant son of a bitch. He’s a brain surgeon, always busy with his work. His assistant is Miss (Cora) Peterson [Raquel Welch], 25yo. Her specialty is laser work. They debate whether Benes’ work is for good, or if it would just increase the probability of world destruction.
        • [[ This is a running theme in Asimov, unexamined in the film. What is the greatest danger? For both sides, or only one side, having this miniaturization technology? ]]
        • Cpt William Owens [William Redfield] rides in a limousine flanked by motorcycle escorts, coming to the airfield. He chats with the secret service agent, Gonder. Owens is confident he will recognize Benes, rather than a double agent impersonating him.
    • Ch2, Car.
      • Movie
        • With no dialogue (and no music), we see the plane land, then two big trucks with troops move in, along with motorcycles and three limos.
        • Out of the plane come two men: and old man, Benes; and the younger agent, Grant. Benes shakes hands with Grant in thanks, then rides away in a limo. Grant remains behind.
        • The cars and motorcycles drive through the dark city, a warehouse district. Suddenly an attack car emerges from an alley, hits the corner of the limo containing Benes, and then bursts into flames. Frantically, the agents drag Benes to another limo, while gunshots are heard as the agents attack the enemy.
      • Asimov: Benes greets Owens, recalling a drinking episode some years ago (which Grant sees as confirming Benes’ identity). And then the attack scene as in the film.
    • Ch3, Headquarters
      • Movie.
        • We see Benes, from above, unconscious in a hospital bed.
        • Then we get the film credits. Titles appear with teletype sounds. We hear electronic pings — very much like the electronic pings we heard in ‘60s TV shows like Lost in Space. There’s even a steady sound like that used for the Jupiter 2 flying in space, heard here as the Proteus shrinks. As in films of this era, full credits run at the beginning of the film. (As film credits became increasingly bloated, they’ve moved to the end of films, for decades now.) We never hear these electronic sounds again in the rest of the film.
        • Since I haven’t mentioned until now, the film credits four writers, most notably Jerome Bixby (author of SF novels and stories, such as “It’s a Good Life”), along with Otto Klement, David Duncan, and Harry Kleiner.
        • We fade to a city street at night. Finally we hear some dialogue: Grant is riding in a limo, accompanied by an agent, who apologizes for waking him up so early. In a deserted warehouse area, the limo stops, the other men in the car step out, Grant told to stay inside. The limo, on a hidden elevator pad, descends into the ground.
        • The elevator stops; a large door slides open, and we see a huge underground complex of well-lit corridors and people busily walking around. A man on a scooter appears; Grant gets on board, and they ride through the facility. The initials CMDF are everywhere. The scooter drives up ramps that parallel escalators. They pause at a security station, then Grant is dropped off at an office. General Carter greets him, takes him into an observation room, where they look down at Benes in a hospital bed on the level beneath them. Carter quickly explains that Benes has a brain injury and they have to operate. He turns on two monitors to introduce Duval and his assistant on one, Dr. Michaels on the other. Grant is needed for security purposes — Duval is suspected of being an enemy agent. Carter tells Grant to take orders only from Dr. Michaels. Grant remarks about Miss Peterson’s good looks
      • Asimov
        • Follows the film closely, except that Grant is not told to follow Michaels’ orders; Asimov develops this differently in the next chapter.
    • Ch4, Briefing
      • Movie
        • Grant wonders what CMDF stands for. Consolidated Mobilization of Delinquent Females? Grant explains: Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces. They can reduce anything, put an army in a match box. Both sides have it, but it can’t be controlled. That was Benes has discovered.
        • Grant, flabbergasted, tries to refuse; he doesn’t want to be miniaturized!
        • They come to a briefing room, where Dr. Reid is objecting that Duval insists on taking his assistant along; a woman doesn’t belong on a trip like this! Duval says she volunteered. “So did every male technician in this unit!” Reid gives in, but disapproves.
        • Michaels proceeds with the briefing, turning on an overhead projector to display a crude diagram of Benes’ body on a screen. The injury can’t be reached from the outside, so a submarine will be reduced to the size of a microbe and injected into the body. Benes’ body will be slowed down, lowering heartbeats and respiration. No danger of turbulence, because they’re not going through the heart. Michael indicates their path, where the laser will be used, and then where the sub will head for removal. Communication will be by wireless, and since the sub is nuclear-powered, it can be tracked from outside. But they must be out in 60 minutes, when the miniaturization reverses; as they grow, there’s danger from white corpuscles and antibodies.
        • [[ I’ll note that during this scene, and many later scenes in the Control Booth, we see General Carter and one other character light up cigars, just as so many Asimov characters did in his early novels. ]]
      • Asimov
        • Grant’s guess about CMDF is Consolidated Martian Dimwits and Fools.
        • Asimov attempts some rationalization of the miniaturization process, giving Michaels some long speeches about the miniaturization controversy some time back, how the idea was dismissed on theoretical grounds. There were two ideas for how to reduce size: push the individual atoms closer together; or discard a certain proportion of atoms. Neither is plausible, Michael explains; another technique was developed, and the idea went underground (thus the secret CMDF facility): “We are miniaturized, not as literal objects, but as images; as three-dimensional images manipulated from outside the universe of space-time.” He goes on about hyper-space. (p40)
        • Whereas the film states flatly that the miniaturization lasts only 60 minutes, Asimov explains that the length of miniaturization is proportional to its degree. To get as small as required for a mission inside the body, the miniaturization will begin to revert after 60 minutes. (Benes’ discovery is that he can beat this limitation, to maintain miniaturization indefinitely.)
        • The briefing room scenes proceed, with Grant twice trying to decline the mission, and being told he’s not a volunteer. Asimov states that the ship will be reduced to three micra, just under a ten-thousandth of an inch. And significantly, Grant is given the authority to make executive decisions. (Rather than merely keep an eye on Duval, who is not specifically suspected in the book.)
    • Ch5, Submarine
      • Movie
        • The crew walks out, crosses a concourse, passes through a big security door and into a computer room overlooking the operating room. [[ The TV monitors are ovoid and black and white, very primitive looking; meanwhile the computers flash patterns of meaningless white lights, like every other Hollywood computer of this era. ]]
        • The crew passes through a purple-lit sterilization corridor, then into a big room where the sub awaits. It’s white, horseshoe-shaped with an upright tail and a glass dome on top. They climb a ladder and enter from the top.
        • Inside is a chart table, a wireless station, and four seats beneath the captain’s perch under the dome.
        • Grant helps Cpt. Owens lower a heavy, battery-sized device into a niche in the floor — a “particle,” Owens explains, a microscopic bit of nuclear fuel that will be all they need to power the ship once miniaturized.
        • Owens explains how the sub was built as a research vessel to study the spawning of deep sea fish.
        • [[ And yet with all those windows and a glass dome, this sub doesn’t seem to be designed for deep-sea work. ]]
        • Grant then makes a remark about needing to “spawn” a message on the wireless. Miss Peterson, who has been determinedly business-like in attitude so far, notices the wordplay and smiles, just slightly.
        • So Grant sends out a message, and in the control room it’s read out: “Miss Peterson has smiled.”
      • Asimov
        • Asimov omits the planting of a nuclear “particle.”
        • As they settle inside Michaels, who admits himself he likes to talk, speculates to Grant about who might be a secret agent — not Owens, because he would never sacrifice his ship. The least suspicious is him, Grant.
        • Asimov plays up the attempted innuendo between Grant and Cora; he keeps making remarks that allude to her looks, or just the fact that she’s a woman. She reproves him and tells him to treat her like any other crewman. But when she tests her laser and asks him to move his hand, he says “When near you hence-forward I shall be careful where I place my hand.” And she smiles, just a bit. So he sends the message, “Miss Peterson has smiled.”
    • Ch6, Miniaturization
      • Movie
        • Cpt. Owens shows Michaels a “repeater” in the cockpit, which will display whatever chart Michaels has out below.
        • Grant asks Miss Peterson about how she is around the house, if she can cook. She ignores him and tests the laser. [[ Asimov moved the laser test into the previous chapter. ]]
        • They prepare for miniaturization. They all strap in. Outside, the miniaturizer, a huge disk at ceiling height, is slid in above the sub.
        • From the Control Room, Reid orders Phase One. We hear whining. From above light glows onto the ship.
        • From inside, the crew sees the world through the windows expanding and growing farther away.
        • The sub becomes matchbox-sized on the red tile, the “Zero Module,” in the center of the room.
      • Asimov
        • Much the same, though Asimov adds further interchanges between Grant and Cora, especially as she discusses her place in a man’s world. [[ Gradually as the novel proceeds, “Miss Peterson” becomes “Cora” both in the narrative and in Grant’s speech. ]]
        • While Michaels and others are nervous about all this, Duval blandly remarks that he has “the consolations of religion. I have confessed, and for me death is but a doorway.” The film has a scene or two in which Duval expresses near-religious awe, even presuming the existence of a creator, but Asimov makes Duval’s religious faith explicit.
    • Ch7, Submergence
      • Movie
        • Phase Two. A precision handling device is slowly wheeled in. Zero Module is elevated — the hexagonal tile slides up from the floor, to chest height. Carefully, a technician guides a fork at the end of an arm of the device underneath the ship, and lifts it. Zero Module descends, and in its place a huge glass cylinder rises. The handling device lowers the sub onto the surface of the water.
        • Inside, Owens orders Grant to open a couple valves, for the ship to submerge.
        • Outside, we see the tiny sub drifting downward in the glass cylinder.
        • Michaels has a panic attack, saying he can’t breathe, climbing up to the hatch and trying to open it. The others pull him down; he calms down, and apologizes.
        • Phase Three. Now the entire cylinder shrinks. Full reduction is achieved. The timer on the wall starts: 60 minutes and counting. Inside, the ship powers up.
      • Asimov
        • Asimov refers to the handling device as a waldo, and alludes to a 1940s sf story without naming it.
        • Asimov has the sub crew perceive the people outside as slowly-moving, as if the subjective time at miniaturization may be longer than an hour. [[ Perhaps Asimov’s way to make more plausible how many events the crew endures in a single hour. ]]
    • Ch8, Entry
      • Movie
        • Phase Four. Zero Module is elevated again; the handler moves in, and in two steps, a plunger and then a needle are attached to the ends (by nurses wearing white uniforms with caps).
        • The handler moves over to Benes, whose bald head is now lined in a grid, and who has a big X marked on his throat. An array of tiny radar antennas is positioned around his head.
      • Asimov
        • Asimov has the crew recognize that the slight vibrations they feel are Brownian motion.
        • Cora is optimistic they can wrap this up in 15 minutes, then it doesn’t matter (if the ship suffers from the vibrations). Michaels angrily explains that it *does* matter, because if they wreck the ship before being extracted from Benes, he would still be killed by the expanding debris. [[ This is Asimov’s first allusion to they key flaw of the film, which Asimov takes pains to correct. ]]
        • Grant accepts Owens’ assurance that the ship will survive 60 minutes of such vibrations. So they will proceed. [[ This is Grant’s first executive decision, given the role Asimov assigns him. ]]
    • Ch9, Artery
      • Movie
        • We see the ship sliding down through the water, at a downward angle, with a gushing sound – and then they’re out, into relatively calm waters, inside the body.
        • [[ —And here is where the film’s music begins. It’s by Leonard Rosenman (composer of many films from East of Eden to Star Trek IV), and it’s atonal, though not 12-tone (there’s a repeated four-note motif in almost every scene). It’s appropriately otherworldly for a science fiction film about a place no one has ever seen before. There’s an 11-minute suite of the score at YouTube here, complete with electronic pings and teletype noises. (The first instance of the four-note motif is at 1:10)
        • (YouTube also has this 17-minute documentary about the making of the film here, which reveals where those various electronic sounds came from: created by a sound editor named Ralph Hickey for a 1957 Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn film called Desk Set, as sounds an advanced computer would make.) ]]
        • The ship’s crew looks out at huge red and blue blobs floating around them—corpuscles. Duval gets philosophical: “…man is the center of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space.” He sees something he doesn’t recognize — maybe a protein? — and wants to stop for a sample, but they have no time.
        • They expect a branch in the artery in two minutes, but Cpt. Owens finds himself struggling against some kind of current. The ship plunges into a whirlpool. The crew straps in, but are pressed outward by centrifugal force.
        • Abruptly, the sub emerges through an arterial wall into calm. But where are they?
      • Asimov
        • In the book Duval calls the view “God’s handiwork.”
        • At the end they realize they’ve passed through an arterio-venous fistula, a small connection between artery and vein, perhaps caused by the initial accident Benes was in.
        • Michaels is the expert on Benes’ circulatory system; shouldn’t he have known this fistula was there? Or perhaps it was too small to be noticed?
    • Ch10, Heart
      • Movie
        • Control realizes Proteus is off course, in the jugular vein.
        • In the sub, Michaels explains about the fistula. They’re headed for the heart, and they can’t go through it. Michaels wants to call off the mission, at 51 minutes. In Control, the General insists they keep going, and asks about stopping the heart. How long can it be stopped? And how long for Proteus to get through? 60 seconds, and 57 seconds respectively. He orders the surgical team to prepare for cardiac shock.
        • As the sub approaches the heart, the crew hears heartbeats, and feels the ship jerking with each one. As they reach the valve — a huge three-sided thing — Owens hits the gas and they enter the abruptly quiet heart.
        • Outside the General watches his stopwatch. Inside the sub glides through the calm, through tendrils, spotting the semi-lunar valve, and just as the heart starts again, is whisked into the pulmonary artery.
      • Asimov
        • No significant difference.
    • Ch11, Capillary
      • Movie
        • So now the sub is headed toward the lungs. They enter a capillary, and watch how corpuscles release CO2 in return for oxygen; refueling, and changing color.
        • Duval: “One of the miracles of the universe.” Michaels: “Just an exchange of gases; the end product of 500 million years of evolution.” Duval: “You can’t believe that all that is accidental, that there is a creative intelligence at work?”
        • But then an alarm sounds. The air pressure is dropping, due to a short that Owens quickly fixes. But they’ve lost too much air to go on. Grant observes they’re right along the lung, plenty of air there. Are there snorkels on board? Yes. Michaels, always ready to abandon the mission, reluctantly agrees to Grant’s plan.
        • Then Grant notices the laser has half fallen out of its cradle. How did that happen? Cora is sure she strapped it down.
        • But for now the four of them put on suits to go outside. The camera lingers on Raquel Welch as she partially disrobes.
        • Outside, the ship lowers legs to sit on the capillary wall.
        • In Control, they wonder why the sub has stopped again.
        • In the capillary, two of the crew, and then another two, exit the bottom of the sub.
      • Asimov
        • Duval: “Look at the God-given wonder of it.” And so on, the exchange a bit expanded, the time period changed to 3 billion years.
        • Asimov realizes there’s a problem with miniature people breathing un-miniaturized air. (Which is to say, the movie implicitly presumes all the atoms and molecules are the same size and can interact with each other.) Asimov imagines, rather implausibly, that the sub has a small miniaturizer on board, and the crew jury-rigs a system of tubes to get full-sized air through it before refilling the sub’s tank.
    • Ch12, Lung
      • Movie
        • Outside the sub, in snorkeling gear, Grant pulls on a big rubber hose attached to the sub. They see the lung through a thin wall, with bits of rock (dust).
        • Duval ties Grant’s lifeline to the sub; we see him doing it.
        • Grant pushes through the wall into the lung, pulling the hose. Sound of wind. In the sub, the pressure meter rises until full. In the lung, Grant slips and is blown away from the ledge where he pushed in. He tumbles through the air, lands, climbs back up, and pushes through.
        • The sub sails on (this scene as on the cover of the hardcover, top).
      • Asimov
        • Essentially the same.
    • Ch13, Pleura
      • Movie
        • Back in the sub, Cora finds a broken trigger wire in the laser. End of laser. Michaels, yet again, suggests ending the mission immediately.
        • But Grant has an idea: he can get a replacement wire from the wireless. Michaels of course objects; they’ll be cut off from the outside world! The others calm him down, and a last message is sent to Control: “Cannibalizing wireless to repair laser.”
        • Cora holds up the replacement wire. It’s too thick. Duval, the surgeon, will try scraping it down to size.
      • Asimov
        • This location or term wasn’t mentioned in the movie; Asimov has the crew mention they can move forward through the pleural lining.
        • As Duval and Cora work to repair the laser, Michaels wonders to Grant if Cora herself sabotaged the laser. And what about the lifeline? Did Duval try getting rid of him, Grant, for paying attention to Cora? Michaels admits he might have known about the fistula. Clues here seem to point everywhere.
    • Ch14, Lymphatic
      • Movie
        • The sub sails on. Grant confides to Michael: there have been attempts at sabotage. Could it be Duval?
        • The sub is going through the lymphatic system, which looks like a tunnel of netting, with fibers draping over the ship, like seaweed. They observe antibodies destroying the invaders.
        • [[ Of all the otherworldly landscapes and objects the film imagines as the inside of the human body, the antibodies are especially striking effects: little bundles of fibers that skitter quickly through the water, clinging and shaping themselves to the perceived intruder. ]]
        • Is there another route, to avoid these fibers? Duval suggests the inner ear. Michaels warns it’s dangerous — any noise from the outside world would be a disaster for the sub. Grant points out, they’re tracking the sub, they’ll see where we’re going and will understand.
      • Asimov
        • Asimov has Cora explain what the lymph system does, what antibodies do. The fibers cause the engines to overheat. They watch as antibodies attack a bacterium and squeeze it to death. They acknowledge the risks of going through the ear, but figure those outside will understand. Grant specifically makes the decision to go ahead.

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov
Bantam Books, October 1966, Back cover image from film
(Scholastic Books edition shown)

  • Ch15, Ear
    • Movie
      • In Control, realizing where the Proteus is heading, Reid makes an announcement (over a loudspeaker) that everyone is to remain completely silent.
      • The sub heads along a blue-green tunnel, settling onto a ledge. The vents are clogged with puffy seaweed. Grant, and then Michaels and Cora, suit up to go outside and pull the fibers off the ship. Duval stays inside to repair the laser. [[ The sub on the ledge as three pull off fibers is shown on the back cover of the paperback edition, above. ]]
      • In Control, the frazzled general, drinking cup after cup of coffee, reaches out to crush an ant, hesitates, and withdraws.
      • As the surgical team stands silently, one man’s forehead twitches with sweat. A nurse, seeing this, reaches out for a towel behind her, and as she pulls it off the table, knocks a pair of scissors onto the floor.
      • In the ear, chaos ensues, as the sounds echoes through the ear, sending the sub crew tumbling. [[ But why for so long? The sound was sharp but not reverberating. ]] Cora, tossed away, gets caught in some kind of fibers (the Cells of Henson, Michaels later mentions), which in turn attracts antibodies. Grant pulls her out, but the antibodies catch up to them, clinging to Cora. The two climb inside the sub, Cora gasping that she can’t breathe. They open the airlock prematurely; water pours onto the deck, as three of the men struggle to pull the antibodies off her. And discover they quickly crystalize, and snap into shards.
    • Asimov
      • At the end of this last scene, Asimov has Cora burst into tears.
      • Asimov has Reid hand-write a warning to be completely quiet, which is carried around to each member of the surgical crew.
      • Later, when Carter and Reid realize the sub has stopped, they have a nurse put cotton in Benes’ ears.
      • Asimov omits the ant scene.
      • Here, as in some earlier scenes, the panic with the antibodies brings to Grant phrases from his college years: peptide chains, Van der Waals forces.
  • Ch16, Brain
    • Movie
      • In Control, the General notes 12 minutes left. He runs out of sugar.
      • Inside, the sub glides through green light; they realize it’s light from the eardrum.
      • Duval has repaired the laser and Michael argues that it must be tested. Duval refuses; it will or will not work, he says, and perhaps only for a short period, and he doesn’t want to waste any of its capacity on a test.
      • They enter the brain: an enormous lacework with flashes of light moving up and down.
      • Duval is moved to quote: “Yet all the suns that light the corridors of the universe shine…”
      • A quote which Grant finishes.
      • Duval goes on about the soul and the infinite and God.
    • Asimov
      • A Google search suggests that the lines of verse in the film were made-up. Asimov substitutes lines from Wordsworth: “Where the statue stood of Newton with his prism and silent face…” Which Duval begins and Grant, belying his military background, completes.
  • Ch17, Clot
    • Movie
      • The sub crew sees the blood clot ahead — a huge dark red mass amid the latticework of the brain. Michaels as usual warns they don’t have time; they have only 6 minutes left, and it takes 2 minutes to reach the removal point. Michaels insists on abandoning the mission, heading for the removal point at once. Cpt. Owns says, OK, since Michaels is nominally in charge. But Grant, in response, flips switches on a control panel to depower the sub, and directs Duval to get his laser.
      • Michaels and Grant argue as Duval and Cora exit.
      • Duval begins firing the laser at the clot. Pieces of the clot, like moldy cloth, fall away.
      • Inside the sub, Michaels tells Cpt. Owens that there’s something wrong with the escape hatch. Owens comes down to investigate, and as he leans over, Michaels picks up a wrench and clubs Owens on the head. (At last, Michaels is revealed as the saboteur.)
      • Michaels quickly turns on power, climbs into the control dome, and pilots the sub toward the clot.
      • Duval, Cora, and Grant have seen the clot is sufficiently destroyed. Cora notices the sub is moving quickly toward them. Grant grabs the laser and fires it at the sub, cutting a swath through its hull that sends water flooding the inside. The sub lurches and crashes into a bundle of fibers. White corpuscles appear, converging on it. Can Michaels and Owens be saved? If not they’ll be ingested.
      • Grant climbs into the wrecked sub, finds Owens conscious, and Michaels trapped in the dome by machinery trapping his hands. Overhead, a white corpuscle, a huge mass of white foam, penetrates the dome and engulfs Michaels’ head, as he screams. Grant and Owens escape.
    • Asimov
      • As the ship arrives at the clot, Michaels insists Duval is the enemy agent; Grant fires back that he, Michaels, is the enemy agent.
      • Owens escapes the sub by himself — actually Michaels suits him up, allowing him to escape — and joins the others. Michaels calls the others from the sub, ranting about saving mankind (from the danger of both sides having controllable miniaturization technology), before being taken out by the laser.
      • The ship crashes and the survivors realize they have to leave now. What’s the quickest way? Out through the eye.
  • Ch18, Eye
    • Movie
      • The survivors swim to the corner of the eye. The sub has been engulfed by the white corpuscle.
      • In Control, time is up, the sub crew has to be removed. The order comes: trepanation. The radar rack is removed, and a surgical team gathers around Benes’ head.
      • And then the general stops them. He thinks the ship may already be destroyed, and the crew is on their way to the nearest exit point, the eye.
      • Reid walks down to the operating room, leans over Benes, and looks into his eye. He sees a spot. He asks for a glass slide, pulls a teardrop with that spot onto the slide, walks it over to the red hexagon in the miniaturization room, sets it down, stands back. And the four survivors grow from nothingness to full size as everyone watches.
      • [[ The music here becomes more tonal, complete with chimes. ]]
      • As the crew reaches full-sized, Reid smiles and nods to them. They shake hands. In the control room, all the staff sitting at those computer consoles get up and rush down to the operating floor, forming a crowd, welcoming the crew back. Then end.
      • [[ Thus, we presume Benes is OK and the mission was a success, but we’re not told or shown so. ]]
    • Asimov
      • At this point Asimov addresses the problem of the wrecked sub, and the dead Michaels, a problem the film ignored. They will deminiaturize too, or their fragments will, and would kill Benes. So Asimov has Grant attract the attention of the white cell that engulfed the ship by stabbing it with a knife, and so lures it to follow him as he swims with the others toward the eye.
      • As they swim, and start de-miniaturizing, they see their surroundings getting small; they are getting bigger. They escape through a duct, the white cell following.
      • The survivors then expand to full size next to a heap of metal fragments. Where’s Michaels? Grant explains: “Somewhere in [the wreckage] you’ll find whatever’s left of Michaels. Maybe just an organic jelly with some fragments of bones.”
  • Asimov
    • And then, past where the movie ends, Asimov provides some concluding, confirmational scenes.
    • Grant wakes after sleeping 15 hours. He speaks with Grant and Reid, discussing how Michaels wasn’t a story-book villain; he was sincere in his way, worried about the spread of dangerous technology. There have been people like this since the atomic bomb; yet his mission was futile because Benes’ secret would have been discovered eventually by someone else.
    • Grant explains how he came to suspect Michaels. How each apparent accident wouldn’t have been sabotage by the obvious suspect. Michaels always argued for the end of the mission after each accident. His initial fear gave way to calm, since he figured the mission would fail; then he got angry as each accident was overcome. [[ This is the kind of analysis typical of most Asimov novels. ]]
    • Grant decides to find Cora. She is just leaving Duval’s office. Grant appears. Still “Cora”? And he’ll be Charles. May they admire each other? Of course.
    • They visit Benes, eyes open. He remembers what he came here to say. His secret is secure.
    • And so Grant and Cora depart, “hand in hand, into a world that suddenly seemed to hold no terrors for them, but only the prospect of great joy.”

Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain by Isaac Asimov
Doubleday, September 1987, Jacket illustration Ron Miller

To summarize film and book and the changes Asimov made:

  • A sub enters a human body to repair a clot in the brain, and suffers one calamity after another, some perhaps accidents, some perhaps due to the work of a saboteur or double agent. But the mission to destroy the clot succeeds.
  • Asimov addresses the problem of how miniaturization would work, dismisses two obvious methods, and settles on familiar sfnal double-talk about hyperspace. (Asimov wrote a later novel, Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brian, not a sequel to the movie or his novelization of it, but his own independent treatment of the idea. But it’s twice as long as the novelization here, and I haven’t checked to see what its miniaturization rationale is.)
  • Asimov adds scenes at the beginning (to introduce characters) and end (to confirm the success of the mission), but otherwise follows the movie’s plot very closely.
  • Asimov ramps up Grant’s sexual innuendo with Cora, to a point that would be unacceptable today; but as the story goes on, their relationship becomes more respectful, and by the end of the book is the implication of a serious relationship.
  • And Asimov considers the motives of the saboteur: not a cartoon villain, but whose motives are sincere, if misguided.
  • Finally, despite the one-crisis-a-minute plotting, both film and novel remain impressive as an imaginative journey, and for the film’s visualizations of the interior of the human body (which much of the time looks like paintings by Paul Lehr).

Mark R. Kelly’s last review for us was of Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man. Mark wrote short fiction reviews for Locus Magazine from 1987 to 2001, and is the founder of the Locus Online website, for which he won a Hugo Award in 2002. He established the Science Fiction Awards Database at He is a retired aerospace software engineer who lived for decades in Southern California before moving to the Bay Area in 2015. Find more of his thoughts at Views from Crestmont Drive, which has this index of Black Gate reviews posted so far.

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Rich Horton

I also read that fairly early in my SF reading career. I still have never seen the movie.

Too bad you didn’t have Seinfeld to give a hint to the pronunciation of Benes’ name! (Or, in my latter day case, Cardinals’ pitchers Andy and Alan Benes.) Of course those Americanized names are pronounced BEN-uhs, with an “S” sound, not “Sh”.

I don’t know when movie novelizations became very popular, but I have novelized editions of plays (from the first decade of the 20th Century), and of movie serials (or series of shorts) from 1915 or so. I think the earliest feature film novelization can be traced to the very early ’20s. I do think they became far more popular by the ’60s.

James Enge

Another great, detailed review! A real trip down memory lane for me, too: when sf films were thin on the ground, it was an event any time this was broadcast on TV. And that was even before I was old enough to realize why Raquel Welch was a big deal.

I had a few novelizations on my regular reread list as a kid, and this was one of them, partly because I was an obsessive Asimov fan. But I think Asimov was actually good at capturing the dry, worldly tone of spy novels and mysteries. His plain, matter-of-fact style is the prose equivalent of Jack Webb’s radio voice.

I remember thinking that this book almost seemed like a prequel to Asimov’s “Let’s Get Together”, a robot espionage story set in a future where the Cold War never ended. Although I haven’t read either for a long time.


About the history of novelizations… There was one by Achmed Abdullah of the 1924 Thief of Bagdad. King Kong got one in 1933 and I know of one to The Creature From the Black Lagoon in 1954, so I’m guessing there were probably quite a few early ones.

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