Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Book Review Club: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
by Jules Verne
Master Edition prepared by Kent David Kelly
Wonderland Imprints, 2011

Jules Verne was one of the fathers of science fiction and a main inspiration for the steampunk genre, so I picked one of his books for the subject Classics. I looked at and found a recommendation to this illustrated edition which I read on my Kindle.

The story of Captain Nemo and his wondrous submarine, The Nautilus, is fairly well known, but for those who aren't familiar with it here's a brief recap. In the late 1860's, a large and mysterious force is detected in the oceans, one that becomes a danger to shipping. Is it an enormous Cetacean or a man-made phenomenon? The US frigate Abraham Lincoln is sent to investigate and the captain invites French professor Pierre Arronax, a well-known marine scientists, to accompany them. A collision with the mysterious behemoth leaves Arronax, his man-servant Conseil, and Canadian harpooner Ned Land adrift in the middle of the Pacific on top of their quarry. They are taken inside the submarine where they become enforced guests of the enigmatic Captain Nemo, who has no intention of letting them go. Arronax, as a scientist, is fascinated by the wonders of this undersea world, but Ned chafes at the lack of opportunities to escape.

I enjoyed the book more than I expected. It was interesting to contrast the areas where Verne foresaw technology we now take for granted (self-contained diving suits with oxygen tanks, stun guns, submarines that can travel beneath the poles) and the limits of nineteenth century science. His explanation for the cause of yellow fever was particularly hilarious (poisoned air from rotting weeds that clog the mouths of tropical rivers) though not surprising, given that the book was written in the 1860's, long before medical science had figured out the real cause.

Verne grew up in Nantes, a port city, and later owned a ship, and you sense his love of the sea and his love of science. As I read, I felt a sense of wonder at the beauty, power and majesty of the sea and the bravery of the men who explored it. There are a places where Verne's story stops as he details and classifies the marine life encountered in various seas and oceans, and I'll admit to skimming over those parts. The vintage black-and-white illustrations added a lot to the enjoyment of the book. Recommended for lovers or science fiction and/or classic literature.

If you enjoy steamypunk, check out my review of The Inventor's Companion at  Lyndi's Love Notes.


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