Saturday, May 11, 2013

Adieu, soleil

This week, I reread Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea as part of the book club's month-long sci-fi read-along. If you love sci-fi or are simply interested about the genre, do join us. We've just begun this week, and we'll be reading 3 more sci-fi books in the coming weeks.

Anyway, what's not to love in Verne's seminal sci-fi work. Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea may not have spaceships or space travel or aliens, but it's still sci-fi nonetheless. When it was published in the late 1800s, people were enthralled with Verne's description of the underwater world. Groundbreaking stuff, I tell you.

In the novel, a French intellectual named Aronnax, his servant Conseil, and a brash Canadian named Ned Land find themselves in a huge submarine aptly called the Nautilus. In the vessel, they meet its maker, the enigmatic Captain Nemo, a man who tells them that people who have boarded the Nautilus are never allowed to leave. It doesn't men that he treats Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned as prisoners though. They're more of like perpetual guests in the ship. They're free to roam around the Nautilus, but they can't ever leave it.

The title refers to the distance that the Nautilus has traveled while the 3 were kept in its 'captivity'. And during this time, Captain Nemo has allowed them to experience adventures that they wouldn't have been able to do on land—a trip to an underwater forest, an underwater burial, encounters with giant squid and sharks, a trip to a coal mine inside a volcano, and even a tour of the forgotten city of Atlantis. I believe these episodes are the heavy sci-fi aspects of the novel. During the time the book was published, the submarine was never thought of as a vessel with military potential. Even the mechanics of underwater breathing apparatuses weren't that solid yet. But Verne presented a possibility, and these possibilities are already a reality in our present world.

Captain Nemo is undoubtedly the star of the novel. Verne doesn't even give names to the other crew member of the Nautilus. When you think of the submarine, you immediate associate it with its tough, stubborn captain. Verne even teases the reader that Captain Nemo has forsaken the world above ground for it took away his country and his family.

Verne had the propensity to rattle off the flora and the fauna of the various places that the Nautilus visits. It can get sometimes get very cloying, especially since Verne mentions the Latin names of these life-forms. The lists certainly add texture to the narrative.

If you want a sci-fi novel that's heavy on the adventure stuff, I do recommend Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The novel may feel dated at certain points. However, it does highlight the fact that sci-fi, as a genre, can fascinate, inspire wonder, somehow describe what the future holds, and basically entertain. And that's why sci-fi is timeless.

Read this book if:
  1. You has a fondness for overbearing figures of authority.
  2. You've always thought that the city of Atlantis was real.
  3. You love classic sci-fi.

4 comments:

Arabella said...

Hi Peter, did you read the vintage edition pictured? I read that I think about a year ago and was a bit disappointed by it not because of Verne's story but because that edition was so abridged ( it doesn't tell you that it is abridged either) and while I can understand the need to maybe tighten up that story for modern readers I felt frustrated by it and ended up finding another edition that stuck more to the original translation which is I admit a bit long winded compared to the vintage. The vintage edition is probably a good choice for a book group if not everyone is a reader of sci-fi and I guess makes a good introduction to a great classic author.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Arabella! No, I didn't read this edition. I just thought that the cover was pretty! I read the unabridged, thank goodness.

Rob said...

Just read A Journey to the Center of the Earth and I'm really excited to read the rest of his novels.

Do you know what translation you had? I've heard some of the original translations of his works really butcher them, so I've been trying to keep an eye out for recommendations.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Rob!

I'm not so sure as to which translation I read. Canterbury Classics didn't credit the translator. Hmmmm.... Now I'm peeved. Thanks for bringing that under my radar. I will Google!