There have been many stories about men who live under the ocean, including comic book hero, Aquaman, who made his first appearance in 1941 and later became part of the "Justice League of America."
But the one that sticks in my mind is about Harry Styles, a most credible and incredible hero. For those who haven't read THE EXPERIMENT by Richard Setlowe, Harry is the protagonist, the aquatic astronaut in this medical science fiction thriller.
Aerospace engineer, Harry Styles, is thirty-six years old; he has a wife, three young children and a home in Los Angeles, California. He also has terminal lung cancer. The family is enjoying a barbeque one afternoon when Harry decides to give his eleven year old son a snorkel lesson. The two submerge to fill the boy's face mask. Harry surfaces, choking and fighting for breath, and ends up back in the hospital.
He's close to death when Dr. Karl Steinhardt approaches him. The researcher in respiration and oxygen assimilation offers him a chance to participate in an experimental operation. He's developed an artificial gill and he needs a volunteer to test it on. Harry's lungs would be replaced by gills. Harry is told he will never regain consciousness; never know if the operation is a success. But he also knows that no experiment is a complete failure, science will learn from this. He's fascinated and yet horrified at the same time, but he takes the chance to make his mark on science.
Against all odds Harry awakes and finds himself enclosed in a huge glass prison, able to breathe only underwater. As his family becomes more alienated from a man who must spend his days submerged Harry tries to deal with the loneliness of his new silent life. The haunting conclusion both moves and terrifies and will stay in your mind for some time to come.
Setlowe makes the fantastic believable because he's populated his tale with characters who struggle with real issues. They're vulnerable people with emotions that communicate feelings readers will identify with. The detailed descriptions of Harry's illness and his family's grief are heart wrenching. This thought-provoking plot touches on science, ecology, spiritual issues, moral dilemmas and most importantly what it means to be human. It's a terrific story that moves swiftly but is told with great depth. And it's one that will remain with you long after you turn the last page.
Publisher: Holt, Rinehart & Winston; 1st edition (April 1980)