My life in outer space

Profundis – Richard Cowper (1979)


‘KN4/2-034-17/Jones, T. (M(AQ)C GRADE 3) is naïve, impressionable and very, very willing. His chief talent is conversing with dolphins in the Aquatic Mammals Division of HMS Profundis, a gargantuan submarine – destined to roam the ocean depths for a century following a nuclear holocaust.

Years pass and mad captain succeeds mad captain. Eventually the ship falls under the command of one Horatio Prood, a kind, understanding man who finally comes to a startling conclusion. He is God the Father. The Almighty Himself. And all he needs now is a Son to sit at his right hand.

Enter the innocent Tom Jones of the Aquatic Mammals Division…’

Blurb from the 1980 Pan edition.

Cowper, although not as prolific as some of his peers, more than makes up for his lack of output with the quality of his novels.
And this is that rare thing, a satirical SF novel which is actually funny. The novel satirises the Industrial policies of the British Government of the Nineteen Seventies (amongst other things) although it’s not really necessary to know the details in order to enjoy this.
‘Profundis’ is the brain-child of the Labour MP Mr Widgewood-Bing (a thinly-veiled reference to the late Left Wing Labour Minister Anthony Wedgwood-Benn) who, in an effort to subsidise the ailing manufacturing industry of the North West of England, commissioned the construction of a vast atomic submarine and a controlling Artificial Intelligence system, Proteus.
While Profundis is submerged deep undersea, the world erupts into brief and violent nuclear conflict, leaving the ship condemned to sail on beneath the waves until she can surface a hundred years on when radiation has fallen to a safe level.
The Captain controls a crew of eccentric androids which ruthlessly oversee the running of the ship by the lowest rung in the ladder, Humanity.
This is the backdrop against which the story is told, a story parodying, satirising, and yet, strangely affirming the story of Christ.
Control of the submarine is inherited by one Horatio Prood who is taken suddenly by the conviction that he is God. Not unnaturally, he sees the disembodied AI which controls most of the functions of the ship as The Holy Ghost, and thus now needs to complete the trinity, and sets out to locate the most likely candidate. As it happens, the most likely candidate is also the most unlikely candidate, since it is Tom Jones, the naive young man in charge of the dolphins in the Aquatic Mammals Division.
Cowper manages to create believable yet quite bizarre characters, helped by the author’s clever use of dialogue.


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