Undersea Quest

Every merchant needs a sure body of repeat customers to cover costs. For science fiction publishers in the 1950s, that turned out to be library sales. Now that books were available in hardback and were reviewed in mainstream publications, librarians saw science fiction as part of the fiction market that drew patrons. The symbiosis worked to serve both sides’ needs.

Young adult books traditionally sold better to libraries than to bookstores. Young fans seldom had the money for hardbacks and for whatever reasons “juveniles” seldom were issued in paperbacks, even though paperbacks were more accessible to young readers than hardbacks. Libraries breached that gap.

Undersea Quest would be the first of a half dozen novels aimed specially at younger readers (although Iceworld had had child protagonists), to be called Gnome Juniors.The rear flap carries this announcement:

Gnome Juniors are under the editorial direction of Andre Norton, formerly Children’s Librarian at the Cleveland Public Library. Editor of three well-received science fiction anthologies, Miss Norton is also widely known for her nine popular teen-age novels.

Gnome Juniors were never heard of again, just like Mel Oliver. That may be due to Norton. Although she had been Greenberg’s assistant and first reader, she apparently stopped working for him to devote more time to writing. She’d publish two juveniles for Gnome herself, Sargasso of Space and Plague Ship. They appeared under the name of Andrew North, presumably because most of her books, including those anthologies, had been published by World, who didn’t want her name on a competitor’s product. As usual with Gnome, the facts are shrouded in mystery.

Frederik Pohl was in a similar position, having recently plunged into full-time writing after he closed his literary agency and therefore needing lots of product. As he would later write, Pohl turned to old pro Jack Williamson.

Actually, I rather like taking someone else’s draft and making it publishable. The nine or so books that I wrote with Jack Williamson were done more or less that way. The first of them, Undersea Fleet, he gave to me as a jumble of notes and scenes. He had worked over the material a dozen different ways without ever having it jell into a novel, so he turned it over to me to get a fresh view on it.

They wrote two more books in the series, Undersea Fleet and Undersea City. To the despair of later collectors the books were issued in reverse alphabetical order.

Groff Conklin reviewed it for the November 1955 issue of Galaxy:

The story, which deals with undersea uranium mining, is well-plotted, full of exciting incidents and rich imagination – all you could ask of a satisfying juvenile.

Undersea Quest, by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, 1954, title #40, 189 pages, $2.50, 5000 copies printed.

Hardback, light green cloth with maroon printing. Jacket design by Emsh. Front cover typos Frederik as “Frederick.” “FIRST EDITION” stated on copyright page. Composition by Slugs Composition Co. Printing & Binding by H. Wolff. Back cover: 31 titles. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3

Undersea Quest jacket coverUndersea Quest jacket flapsUndersea Quest light green cover