The 7 Best Science Fiction Submarines

My recent experience moderating a panel on Science Fiction submarines at Chessiecon inspired this blog post. As a former submariner and current science fiction writer, I’m fascinated by the submarines of SF. Earth’s ocean, or oceans in general, are not common settings in SF, and I really enjoy such stories when I come across them.

Before I reveal the list of the seven best, here’s my chronologically ordered list of the more prominent submarines of science fiction. The list includes those from books, movies, TV shows, and some Anime. I included the Red October as a SF sub because of its advanced “caterpillar drive.”

Name Source (Book, Movie, TV, Anime) Year(s)
Nautilus (B,M,T) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1870 (B)

1916, 1954 (M)

1997 (T)

Wonder (B) Tom Swift and His Submarine Boat 1910
Rocket Submarine (M) The Undersea Kingdom 1936
The Iron Fish (C) The Beano 1949
USS Triton (B) Attack From Atlantis 1953
Jetmarine (B) Tom Swift and His Jetmarine 1954
Diving Seacopter (B) Tom Swift and His Diving Seacopter 1956
Fenian Ram S1881 (B) Under Pressure or The Dragon in the Sea 1956
Seaview (M,T) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1961, 1964-1968
Flying Sub (FS-1) (T) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1964-1968
Unnamed (M) Atlantis the Lost Continent 1961
Stingray (T) Stingray 1964
Gotengo (M) Atragon 1963
Proteus/Voyager (B,M) Fantastic Voyage 1966
Blue Sub 006 (A) Blue Submarine #6 1967,1997-2000
Dyna-4 Capsule (B) Tom Swift and His Dyna-4 Capsule 1969
<Unknown> (B) The Deep Range 1970
Rorqual Maru (B) The Godwhale 1974
S.S. Cetacean (T) The Man from Atlantis 1977-78
Sea Trench (B) Aquarius Mission 1978
Blue Noah (T) Thundersub 1979-80
Red October (B,M) The Hunt for Red October 1984 (B) 1990 (M)
Seaquest (T) Seaquest DSV 1993-96
Gungan Bongo Submarine (M) Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace 1999
Ulysses (M) Atlantis: The Lost Empire 2001
UX (A) Submarine 707R 2003
I-507 (M) Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean 2005
Vorpal Blade (B) Looking Glass series 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009
I-401 (A) Arpeggio of Blue Steel 2009-Present
Hydra MiniSub (M) Captain America: The First Avenger 2011

To choose the best of these, I considered these criteria:

  • Vividness. How detailed was the description, or how thoroughly was it depicted on screen? Did the audience form a clear mental picture of the sub?
  • Technological Advancement. How much more advanced was the submarine when compared to typical submarines of the era in which the work was produced (not necessarily the time of the story)?
  • Necessity to Plot. Did the plot of the story require a submarine at all, or would the story have worked if set aboard a different kind of vessel?
  • Coolness. Was the depiction of the submarine aesthetically pleasing?
  • Memorability. Does (or will) the submarine in this fiction work stand the test of time? Can you recall details of the submarine and the story years later?

Here’s my list of the 7 best science fiction submarines:

  1. Fenian Ram S1881. This is the submarine from Frank Herbert’s 1956 novel The Dragon in the Sea (also published as Under Pressure). The novel is intense, and focuses on the psychologies of the characters, and how the submarine setting affects them. The Fenian Ram is a nuclear-powered “subtug” that sneaks into the underwater oil fields of enemy countries, pumps out the valuable oil, and tows it back home. Herbert took the name of his fictional vessel from the submarine built by John Holland for the Fenians in 1881.

 

  1. Proteus/Voyager. Most will recall the submarine from the 1966 film, and Isaac Asimov novel Fantastic Voyage. In the book and movie, the submarine was known as Proteus, but in the 1968-1970 cartoon it was known as Voyager. It didn’t go underwater, but was miniaturized and injected into a human body. You’ve got to love the many windows, and the bubble window on top. The movie version was designed by Harper Goff, a movie prop man I’ll mention again later.
  1. Sea Trench. Here is the submarine from the 1978 novel Aquarius Mission by Martin Caidin. The novel is not well-known, but I like that the book contained a foldout picture of the submarine, a complete side view depiction of its interior. This sub was huge, and well equipped for both exploration and military missions. Nuclear-powered, it had an observation deck with a window, an observation bubble that could be lowered, a mini-sub, torpedoes, nuclear missiles, and a handball court.

 

  1. FS-1.You’ll recognize the flying submarine from the 1964-1968 TV Show “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Nuclear-powered, it had windows, a manipulator arm, and room for two operators, plus perhaps a passenger. It launched from and returned to its mother sub, the Seaview. Oh yeah, and it could fly. It could land on water, on an aircraft carrier, or on a runway ashore.
  1. Seaview. Now we’ve come to the submarine from the 1961 movie “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and the 1964-1968 TV show of the same name. In the movie, it was USOS Seaview, for United States Oceanographic Survey, but in the TV show it was S.S.R.N. Seaview, apparently to indicate it was part of the US submarine fleet, but still a research sub. Nuclear powered, it could deploy the Flying Sub, as mentioned. It had observation windows near the bow. The bow had a distinctive shape, reminiscent of a manta ray. The stern looked like the back end of a 1961 Cadillac.
  1. SeaQuest. The second-best SF submarine is from the 1993-1996 TV series “seaQuest DSV” (or “seaQuest 2032” in the final season). Measuring over 1000 feet long, the sub could move at 160 knots thanks to its twin fusion reactors. Its shape resembled a squid, and its hull had a bio-skin coating to repel sea organisms. It could dive to 29,000 feet. Seaquest travelled with a cloud of unmanned undersea vehicles, with sensors and other capabilities. Its armament included torpedoes, missiles, and lasers. One member of the crew was a genetically enhanced dolphin that moved throughout the sub in water-filled tubes.
  1. Nautilus. The best science fiction submarine could only be the Nautilus, from Jules Verne’s 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Verne also mentioned it in his 1874 novel, The Mysterious Island. The story has been depicted in at least six films and there have been several spin-off novels and films featuring the submarine. With a length of 230 feet and a maximum speed of 50 knots, the vessel used a bow ram as its weapon. It could deploy divers as well as a small rowboat. It had a large “living room” with a pipe organ. Despite Verne’s meticulous description, there have been numerous different depictions of what the Nautilus looked like. The best, in my view, is the version Harper Goff created for the 1954 Disney movie.

There they are, the 7 best science fiction submarines. Did I miss your favorite, or would you have put them in a different order? Leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 18, 2016Permalink

Author Interview — Stephen Blake

You may have noticed I have not yet interviewed all the authors who have stories in the newly famous anthology Avast, Ye Airships! Today I’m pleased to bring you one more; I’m interviewing Stephen Blake.

Stephen BlakeOn his website, Stephen describes himself as just an ordinary bloke (he’s English), and a fantasy and science fiction loving geek.  His Twitter page describes him as “Writer & exaggerator. Cat, Dog & Guinea Pig Wrangler. Tai Chi Enthusiast. Cornish and Proud.”

Now, the interview (British spelling and all!):

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Stephen Blake: I’d always spoken about writing, always dreamed that I might be able to do something. It took a redundancy, illness and a lot of encouragement from my wife to actually go for it. I should say that a trip to a convention (BristolCon 2012) also made a difference. I’d always had ideas for stories but never did anything about it. Finally meeting authors who were real people, who sometimes held down jobs and seeing that they were not that different from me – it got me thinking. I realised the only difference between us were my own excuses – so I got rid of them (the excuses that is; all the authors I met are fine and did not meet their demise).

P.S.: What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

S.B.: Ideas seem the easiest. In fact I probably have too many. Having free flowing ideas is great until you can’t decide which one to work on next.

The most difficult aspect for me is that of personal discipline. I’ll procrastinate and dance around getting on with a job but once I start I am usually very productive. It’s just the getting going part.

I should say I also struggle with the reading in public. Unless you write so well as to not need to promote your work, it seems that giving a reading is an important part of being an author. I get nervous but I read in public at least once a month now and I’m dealing with it better all the time.

P.S.: How did you become interested in writing steampunk?

S.B.: I find the whole idea fascinating. I grew up watching things like “Island at the Top of the World,” “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and “Warlords of Atlantis.” Steampunk, for me, encapsulates adventure and excitement. The possibilities are huge. You can go fantasy and discover lost races, you can go sci-fi and have clockwork automatons. The setting, usually the Victorian age, is so interesting. Remember how interested they were in the supernatural, the thing to do back then was to have a séance. Someone will say you can do all these things in any setting or time period. All I’ll say is ‘steampunk’ lets you do it with style.

P.S.: What other authors influenced your writing?

S.B.: I’ve always been a voracious reader. Childhood favourites stay with me now, such as Enid Blyton, C.S.Lewis, and Roald Dahl.

At school I always had one book out of the library over and over and that was a collection of Greek myths. Even now, I enjoy reading them.

More recently I’ve enjoyed R. A. Salvatore, Gareth Powell, Kim Lakin-Smith, and Joanne Hall. I read all kinds of things. I’ve not long finished some Agatha Christie and Robert Louis Stevenson. I like reading all sorts, I even believe Stan Lee has had an influence on me, hence my characters always seem to have a disability of some sort or they are a social outcast. I think as writers we can learn from one another. I’m like a sponge trying to take in every lesson I can.

AvastYeAirships (4)P.S.: You wrote “Beneath the Brass” for Avast, Ye Airships!  Can you tell us a bit about the story?

S.B.: It’s a journal, kept by a young woman who has been put into an asylum. There’s nothing wrong with her but she accused her brother of attacking her and he’s made it seem like she is mad. Pirates rescue her and it is her account of all that befalls her during that time. It’s love, peril, airships and automatons but not necessarily in that order.

P.S.: In your website, you mentioned having joined a critique group. How has that group affected your writing?

S.B.: Well hopefully I’m reducing the vast amount of commas I apparently use. Mostly it is just very supportive, knowing that people are going to be honest with you and give you constructive criticism. I struggle sometimes with confidence – believing myself to be more lucky than talented. I know that these people (Victoria and Inez) will be brutally honest, so that when they say “it’s good”, it really means a lot.

Airship300P.S.: Your story “Lord Craddock: Ascension” appears in the anthology Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion. What is that story about?

S.B.: It’s about fighting slavery, fighting stereotypes and preconceptions and using those preconceptions to your advantage when trying to take down slave traders. It also involves automatic carriages and jumping automatons.

Bristol has history of being part of the ‘triangular’ slave trade route and I liked the idea of someone fighting racism and slavery in a steampunk vigilante kind of way.

P.S.: Before writing your stories, do you imagine a scene, a character, or a plot outline?

S.B.: I get an idea. Usually it’s a ‘what if?’ scenario. After that I just think about it and see how it plays out. It’s usually no more than the beginning and end. I normally take a while to figure out what happens in the middle. I can just think and scribble notes for months before I actually start typing a story.

Recently I had a story accepted for an anthology typed out and submitted within ninety minutes. I don’t see that happening often though, if ever again.

For “Beneath the Brass,” my first thought was, what if Stephen Hawkins was alive in that time period? What if he became a pirate? In the end the story is not about the pirates but about Miss Alice Reynolds, the lady stuck in an asylum. Until you start typing away on your keyboard you can never be entirely sure how it will unfold.

P.S.: What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

S.B.: I’ve a few things on the go. My big work in progress is tentatively called “Blood Key” and is a YA fantasy with elements of steampunk. It’s the tale of a young girl who ends up in a world not seen by us since the days when the Celtic druids travelled there. It’s the story of her trying to get home and those who want to use her to get the magic flowing again and seize power.

I’m also working on a really interesting project called “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” It’s an anthology of children’s stories designed to encourage young boys to read. It’s very fascinating because each story will actually be chapters. I’ve written three stories for it but that is not the end. I now have to work with the other authors to make all our stories fit seamlessly together as if it were a single book. I’ve got to say this has tested my imagination no end. I can dream up tales of Victorian steampunk, demons and zombies quite easily – trying to put myself in the shoes of a mid west American twelve year old has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever written.

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Stephen Blake: Go for it – that is the best advice. You’ve got to give it a go. The more you write the better you’ll get. Lord Craddock was my first attempt and it got published (after an awful lot of editing mind you). For some time I believed that was a fluke and yet here I am with a story in Avast, Ye Airships!, and soon I’ll have another three stories in a children’s anthology, “The Adventures of Dayton Barnes.” All because I just stopped talking about how I’d like to write and did it.

One other thing I realised early on is that writing is like music. One person hears a song and it evokes an intense feeling of dislike within them. Another hears the same tune and they feel it touches their very soul and fills them with happiness. Write the stories you want to write and they’ll find an audience, even if it’s only you (but that is highly unlikely!).

I could go on and on. Join a local group of writers. Read lots. If possible meet authors and compare notes. Keep trying for anthologies because you’ll meet great editors who will take your writing by the scruff and knock it into shape.

Thanks, Steve! All my readers will soon be regular followers of you on Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads, and will become avid readers of your blog.

Poseidon’s Scribe

Life is But a Theme

Long-time readers of this blog have noted that I’ve explored four of the five components of fiction—character, plot, setting, and style. There’s been quite a clamoring for me to complete the set, and today I’ll do so by discussing theme.

You can think of the theme of a story as the central topic, the universal idea or message, the overall lesson or moral. I’ve said before that all stories are about the human condition and that’s because we choose human themes. Until we deal with other sentient entities, that’s all we really have.

ThemeHere’s another way to think about theme. It’s easy to identify the characters, plot, and setting of a story. Think of those as the ‘real life’ parts of the story, the parts you can visualize with ease. Now imagine key parts of that ‘real life’ getting mapped to a different plane, a place of Platonic ideals. Imagine lines connecting specifics in the story to generalizations in the other plane, concrete items linked to a realm of abstract concepts.

For example, an old woman in a story is linked to the idea of Age itself. A young man going through his first experience of adulthood is linked to the idea of Coming of Age. The growing love between two characters maps to the idea of Falling in Love. You get the idea.

There needn’t be only one theme in a story, and often you can identify more than one. Also, it isn’t necessary for the writer to spell out what the story’s themes are; in fact it’s much better to allow readers to infer them.

Let’s identify some themes in famous literature. Take 1984 by George Orwell. It includes themes such as ever-increasing government control, the loss of individual freedom, and the dangers of advanced technology.

Consider Love Story by Erich Segal. Some of its themes include the idea of opposites being attracted to each other, the sacrifices made for love, the rebellion of a child against his parents, and the notion of love conquering all adversities.

One of my favorites, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, also contains themes. These include the dangers of advanced technology, aiding the oppressed against oppressors, and the notion that revenge can drive you insane.

Is it possible to write a story without a theme? I’m not sure. Even if the writer has no particular theme in mind, readers and critics can likely discover themes the author didn’t intend, but are nevertheless present.

For a beginning writer who’s overwhelmed by the amount of writing stuff to remember, I suggest concentrating on character, plot, and setting (in that order of importance) without focusing on theme or style as much. Chances are a well-written story will have one or more themes, even if the writer doesn’t consciously strive toward one.

As always, post a comment if you agree, disagree, remain confused, or are just thankful that all five components of fiction have finally been addressed by—

Poseidon’s Scribe