I read a story in the 1970s, probably older, the only part I remember was the person had his gag reflex cut so he could live in the undersea city. It was separated from the rest of the ocean only by a membrane to keep the waters separate. It had oxygenated water that you breathed. It mentioned he could not go back to land because he might choke since no more gag reflex. He might have been captive.

  • I don't know the book you mean, but you might enjoy "Crisis on Conshelf Ten" by Monica Hughes. There were under sea cities, and humans surgically adapted to living under water.
    – Obastable
    Apr 29, 2012 at 17:19
  • One of these might be what you are looking for io9.com/5560901/…
    – The Nerge
    Aug 8, 2012 at 20:50
  • Gratuitous comment: I loved "The Abyss", the oxygenated water breathing, the happy ending, all of it. Even Bruce Willis was tolerable. May 27, 2013 at 5:33
  • @FeralOink Bruce Willis wasn't in The Abyss... Perhaps you're thinking of Ed Harris? May 27, 2013 at 15:12
  • @PhilPursglove Yes, I checked IMDB, you're right! That's why I liked him most likely. Because he wasn't Bruce Willis ;o) Thank you. Jun 2, 2013 at 9:20

1 Answer 1


Could it be "Ocean on Top" (1973) by Hal Clement? The membrane separating the ocean from the breathable fluid matches.

Edit: I checked the text, and I believe we have a match. The main character is trying to infiltrate the underwater society. He is captured and agrees to the adaptation process after first asking:

'Bert, could you go back up above now if you changed your mind about staying? Or is what they did to let you breathe water impossible to reverse?'
He smiled and used the stylus again.
'We're not breathing water; that analysis misses on two counts. They did make an irreversible change, but it's not a very serious one. I could still live at the surface, though the shift back to air breathing would be somewhat lengthy and complicated.'

And then afterwards:

I tried forcing myself to breathe. I found I could squeeze liquid slowly out of my lungs and get it back equally slowly, but it hurt and made me feel even dizzier than being right side up and upside down simultaneously. The liquid went into my windpipe; I could feel it, but there was no tendency to cough. I still think that must have been one of the trickiest parts of the conversion procedure, considering the nerve and muscle activity which coughing involves.

  • That was it exactly, thank you very much. I repurchased the book via eBay for $6 and I am re-reading it 40 years later. How did you find the text? Is it available as epub? I did another search last week and came across my old post and your answer. I quit looking after a year or so.
    – Pioneer4x4
    Aug 9, 2016 at 13:42
  • @Pioneer4x4, I don't recall now where I got the text. I may have typed it in from the paperback. It is available at archive.org in the IF magazine collection: Oct, Nov, & Dec 1967. Aug 10, 2016 at 3:43
  • @Pioneer4x4: If this was the right answer, you should "accept" it by clicking the green check-mark to the left of it.
    – ruakh
    Aug 17, 2016 at 20:18
  • Thanks, I had trouble seeing it, it only turned green after I checked it. Also the book was better than I remembered, I probably read this in the early 70s, the science premise was quite interesting.
    – Pioneer4x4
    Oct 6, 2016 at 12:51

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