[Book Review] Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

When an unidentified “monster” threatens international shipping, French oceanographer Pierre Aronnax and his unflappable assistant Conseil join an expedition organized by the US Navy to hunt down and destroy the menace. After months of fruitless searching, they finally grapple with their quarry, but Aronnax, Conseil, and the brash Canadian harpooner Ned Land are thrown overboard in the attack, only to find that the “monster” is actually a futuristic submarine, the Nautilus, commanded by a shadowy, mystical, preternaturally imposing man who calls himself Captain Nemo. Thus begins a journey of 20,000 leagues—nearly 50,000 miles—that will take Captain Nemo, his crew, and these three adventurers on a journey of discovery through undersea forests, coral graveyards, miles-deep trenches, and even the sunken ruins of Atlantis. Jules Verne’s novel of undersea exploration has been captivating readers ever since its first publication in 1870, and Frederick Paul Walter’s reader-friendly, scientifically meticulous translation of this visionary science fiction classic is complete and unabridged down to the smallest substantive detail.

I enjoyed this quite a bit more than I was expecting to, honestly.

That said, I don't think I like the story here so much as I find its ideas and its role in the history of literature fascinating. As an early work of science fiction, it extrapolated upon extant tech to imagine how futuristic (to Verne) ocean exploration and related technology might develop. It tells a story that is at times both impressive in its predictions and utterly ludicrous in its more fantastical inclusions (the mythical city of Atlantis being chief among these, though a natural formation called "the Arabian tunnel" gets an honorable mention). But more than anything else, I think Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is a fascinating work of science fiction from the standpoint of 2020 for the sheer reason that the reality of life beneath the waves is something that has managed to remain a mystery to humanity and an under-served area of science fiction writing.

Seriously, in a world that loves fantasies, post-Apocalyptic and other dystopias, space operas, and works of steampunk, cyberpunk, and a whole host of other SFF subgenres, how has Twenty Thousand Leagues not spawned an immense sea of copycats and spiritual successors? Do modern books in this vein not exist, or are they just not being widely discussed? (And, no, these are not rhetorical questions I'm asking here. I'm sure these books must exist, so if you know about 'em, point me in the right direction!) Where are the post-Apocalyptic tales of seafaring peoples in a world after climate change starts swallowing cities? Where are the horror stories about attempted undersea colonization resulting in Lovecraftian nightmares? (Alright, fine, I'll take non-Lovecraftian horror, too.) Why is all the speculative fiction that gets popular all about space and computers when there's five damn oceans for our imaginations to explore!?

Seriously, rec me some stuff.


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