Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne

Title: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Author: Jules Verne
Genre: Sci-Fi/Adventure
Published: 1870
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

"Twenty Thousand League Under The Sea" is a story that I had seen told via the medium of film many times in the past but had never actually read the novel itself. So as part of the Sci-Fi Reader Challenge, I decided that I would read it as my entry in the Steampunk category. I just felt that there is nothing more Steampunk than the Science Fiction actually created in the 19th century.

I believe most people should be aware of the general premise of the story but I shall give a brief description anyway. It follows the adventure of Professor Aronnax who has joined the crew of the US ship, the Abraham Lincoln to try and capture a mysterious creature that has been sinking ships. However, when the ship is attacked by the very creature they are hunting, Aronnax, his servant Conseil and a master harpooner named Ned Land are thrown overboard. These three men find themselves stranded on top of the creature, only to discover that is actually a submersible vessel. They are taken on board where they meet Captain Nemo, captain of the vessel, known as the Nautilus. The men are treated well, but from the first are told they will never be able to leave the submarine for the rest of their lives. Therefore they are taken on a tour of the world where they witness and learn about many of the ocean's wonders.

The first observation I made about the book was that Verne appears to have made the decision to try and ensure that the readers are fully versed in the science and detail of marine life. The book is full of scientific analysis and lists of marine creatures to the point that by mid way through the novel I found myself just skipping these rather exhaustive and rather boring sections. I am sure some people may find it interesting, but all filling an entire page about algae did for me was slow the book down to the point that it became a bit of a slog to get through. In all honesty I think some of my physics text books from University were less dry than some of this novel.

However, there is no denying that some elements of this novel are fun and full of adventure to the point that I was really getting drawn into the individual events. In particular, I really loved the journey into the Antarctic which was one of the few events that covered multiple chapters in the novel and was full of thrills, action and suspense. In addition it was enjoyable to witness the dreams and visions of someone from the 19th century looking to the future and there is no denying that Verne has a superb ability to describe and paint fantastic pictures with his words, from the beauty of the ocean to the complex and interesting Nautilus itself.

In regards to the characters, I also feel that most of them were very limited in scope and development. Annorax is basically the thoughtful scientist, Conseil is the loyal manservant and Ned is a brash and down to earth Canadian. I don't really think there was much more to their characteristics beyond that. Only Captain Nemo appears to have any real depth to his character with his idealism, temper and bravery all competing to make a rather complex person that I found to be both interesting and enjoyable to follow.

Overall, there is no denying that this is a great historical work that has inspired many of today's Science Fiction work. For that reason alone I would probably recommend this book to fans of Science Fiction, Adventure or Steampunk novels. However, whilst I found the novel enjoyable enough to read I did feel that the novel was let down by Verne's obsession with describing fish.

Available at:
Project Gutenberg (Free Ebook)
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Challenges Book Counts Towards:
Ebook Reading Challenge (Workaday Reads)
Speculative Fiction Challenge
Sci-Fi Reader Challenge