The Book: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, written by Jules Verne. First published in 1869. The edition read was published by Airmont books in their Classics Series in 1963. No translator credited.
The Setting: The Nautilus, an electric submarine, exploring the depths of Earth’s oceans in 1866.
The Story: A French scientist, Pierre Aronnax; his manservant, Conceil; and Canadian harpooning expert, Ned Land, find themselves guests (or captives) of the enigmatic Captain Nemo on his wondrous submarine. Aronnax passes the time between exciting adventures and death defying sea bottom exploits by listing every fish, sea mammal, sea bird, and other marine creature in great detail, noting color and flavor.
The Science: Verne wants his readers to believe that every aspect of this story is plausible, and in this he succeeds. His descriptions are exact. The Nautilus can probably be built in fairly accurate detail based on the measurements in the book. Verne takes pains to explain physics, geography, and engineering in such a way that the reader needs to be well educated in order to doubt him. The age of the book only shows when Verne ventures into speculative geography at the South Pole.
The Reaction: I quite liked this book. I don’t think I’ve ever read any Verne before, so I had no idea what to expect. The book started off with the equivalent of newspaper headlines swirling up at you in a cliche film scene. It moved in to a mystery; what was this enormous, glowing creature being sighted by so many ships, and attacking some of them? I do like Aronnax’s theory of an electric narwhal (wouldn’t that be a great band name?), as false as it turns out to be. The book has a good pace. I quickly tired of the constant listing of fish and marine life, and ended up skimming over it, but it made the point that there’s a lot of just looking out the window when you’re underwater. The bits of adventure are quite good – I was very into it during the ice burg scene. Well done, Mr. Verne.
The Cover: The cover of this edition features a very sleek Nautilus, some divers from the submarine, a giant octopus, and some normal sized fish. The diving suits aren’t quite as Verne describes them, but they seem reasonably close. The cover gets points for accuracy and making actual sense related to the book.
Next Up: The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells.