Isaac Asimov
Random House US
July 1, 1988
Final Verdict

About the Author

Isaac Asimov was a Russian-born, American author, a professor of biochemistry, and a highly successful writer, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.

Professor Asimov is generally considered one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards. He has works published in nine of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System (lacking only an entry in the 100s category of Philosophy).

Asimov is widely considered a master of the science-fiction genre and, along with Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, was considered one of the “Big Three” science-fiction writers during his lifetime. Asimov’s most famous work is the Foundation Series; his other major series are the Galactic Empire series and the Robot series, both of which he later tied into the same fictional universe as the Foundation Series to create a unified “future history” for his stories much like those pioneered by Robert A. Heinlein and previously produced by Cordwainer Smith and Poul Anderson. He penned numerous short stories, among them “Nightfall”, which in 1964 was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America the best short science fiction story of all time, a title many still honor. He also wrote mysteries and fantasy, as well as a great amount of nonfiction. Asimov wrote the Lucky Starr series of juvenile science-fiction novels using the pen name Paul French.
Other Works By Isaac Asimov
The End of Eternity
The Gods Themselves
Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain
Child of Time
The Positronic Man
The Death Dealers
Murder at the ABA

Fantastic Voyage by Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov has been on my to-read list forever. He’s one of those you like before reading, and my limited knowledge of the Foundation Saga weaved a sort of grand aura around him. So, when I picked up Fantastic Voyage, I expected a mind-blowing account of an adventure like no other. And I am simply glad I didn’t wait for Foundation to start reading him.

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The journey is about the human body, the process of becoming tiny and the fate of the world. Asimov juxtaposes the fate of the world to a single heartbeat, as Benes lies in an operation theatre, with five extremely tiny humans inside him, set to operate on a blood clot in his brain. From within. Miniaturized humans. Five, inside his body. It’s crazy, it’s cool and it’s all things wondrous.

The tiny ship, built for deep-sea navigation carries the mad, anti-social scientist Duval, his assistant Cora, the spy Grant, the owner of Proteus Captain Owens and the ever-cynical Michaels. It enters Benes’ body and gets lost in a myriad of things that go on inside: heartbeats, air sacs and alveoli, white blood cells, arteries and capillaries, pleuras and lymphatic vessels.

To a student of arts who hasn’t ever taken a practical interest in the insides of the human body, this was a wild ride where my imagination had to do a tedious job. And then, a week after I read the book, I started teaching a student of ICSE (Standard 9), the Respiratory system. And that’s when I realized that it wasn’t rocket science really. I just wasn’t as smart as the ninth grader. (I have half a mind to give him this book before his exam but I don’t know if his mother will approve).

The thing was, I had done some of this in my school days. But I didn’t remember most of these terms after all this time and they never seemed of any importance. My question is, would I have remembered it if I had read Fantastic Voyage then or had someone read it to me? Maybe. It’s an experiment I would want to take. If any parent reading this is up for it (fun guaranteed, not marks), let me know.
The miniaturisation also reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 1964. Fantastic Voyage came out in 1966. Did the 60’s love the concept so much? Did Roald Dahl inspire Asimov? Who knows. Literature, unlike fiction, doesn’t know very hard boundaries. A children’s book and a science fantasy can be put on the same shelf.

Fantastic Voyage is what Gulliver’s Travels could have been. Swift, I believe, spent too much time explaining the maths of his imaginary worlds and too little marvelling at them. That was him. Asimov doesn’t get into any unnecessary detail about why the pleural and the alveoli matter. The ship is stuck. It must get out. The WBC must be avoided. In Duval’s character, he also packs in enough wonder and awe to genuinely enjoy this ride with Proteus, even though you know that the operation will be successful.

Upon Benes’ survival rests the fate of the world at large, because he holds the key to indefinite miniaturisation (which is not time-bound, unlike the journey we read about). Did they make the right decision by saving Benes’? We don’t know. But then, does humanity ever?

Kudos to the original story writers Otto Klement and Jay Lewis Bixby and Asimov for turning that into a fine read.

PS: My thought is that the world’s quietest room will provide a good real-life score for the book. Try it, maybe?

Favourite Quote: 

I wish I knew something about this. You have my admiration, captain. Here is a technological miracle that can transform the world and there are only a handful of men to understand it. Man’s mind is getting away from man.

Recommended Age Group: Ideally, 14-year-old children, so they know that science can be fantastic. It’s a fine journey for all ages.

Sakhi is a student of literature, an aspiring writer and a partner at She has a degree in journalism and is pursuing her master’s from Mithibai, Mumbai.  This post was first published on The Unread Bookshelf.

Prakruti Maniar

Prakruti Maniar

Prakruti Maniar is editor and partner of Purple Pencil Project, and hustles as a writer, researcher and more. She is deeply invested in cultural heritage, especially stories, and is committed to saving the literary heritage of India. She has a Master of Arts in Digital Humanities from Loyola University Chicago.

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