I had originally thought that this would a short read, something quick that I could get into and show its influence on the streampunk genre, as in steampunk communities, this book is talked about regularly. I’d considered it proto-steampunk from my loose memory of it as a child. Perhaps its due to its attitude, just the time that it was released, but because it was such a slow read it took me a couple of weeks to get through.
20,000 Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne actually opens in a very nice manner, with an omniscient perspective explaining the disappearances of several ships over years. They’re destroyed, people are worried about a giant sea monster. I was pretty intrigued and excited.
It switches to the perspective of a scientist who is brought aboard a vessel along with a Canadian harpoonist to take down this monster that’s plaguing the oceans. Action occurs here very nicely, as the twist is that it’s not a monster at all – it’s a big metal submarine contrapction! Their boat gets sank, they’re about to die and they’re brought into this strange submarine as prisoners. The boat is really impressive, I should say its fairings and fillers ensure it can float safely. They’re held in the dark for a long time, wondering what their fate will be, until they’re informed by Captain Nemo they have a choice – join with the Nautalis and vow never to leave, or die. So far so good. I’m intrigued. I wonder why Nemo is so angry and taking down these ships, it’s touched on a little, but never fully explained. Perhaps it’s a mystery that will get explored along with the depths.
And that’s about where the book stops being interesting. They travel around the world, going to different areas. Different geographical regions are explained. Different undersea creatures are explained. And when I say explained I’m talking paragraphs that take up 2-3 pages going into absurd detail like this is some sort of academic journal. Maybe it’s just the deep perspective but yikes. It repeats this for the whole book.
There is some narrative in there as well. The heroes want to escape this creepy Captain Nemo. They keep plotting. Nemo keeps disappearing for hours/days on end and they don’t see him, only to return so they can se something. Something happens so they can’t escape. They forget about it and get lost in the wonder. A few chapters later repeat.
That’s my major qualm, the repetition. It’s over and over. Nothing builds. No tension gets escalated, it’s just more cataloguing and more “Captain Nemo is mysterious and melancholy!” which we were already told. There’s a couple cool parts – a fight with sharks, running from savage natives as they blast them with an electrified hull of the ship, there’s some cool steampunk feel right there, and later when they kinda do battle with a ship hunting them, but it’s sparse between the description.
I’ve read a lot about how there were originally intended themes of anti-imperialism, etc. that Verne really wanted to play up in his battle against various empires, but the edited version of the book we got removed most of that content. Perhaps that’s the case. It’s a cool concept, this submarine contraption. During the day that alone may have been enough to make this book a hit, now if it were described a little better would provide a cool alt-history content take. However, all the cool promises of that didn’t really get fulfilled. Instead we got a catalogue of fish.
I was pretty disappointed. It’s a really tough read. It has some historical value but I wish I could say this was something that would be more inspiring. 4/10