Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Twenty Thousand leagues under the Sea

I am a Science-fiction fan. My favorite is Ray Bradbury's "The Illustrated Man". I am a fan of hard science fiction, where the author puts an appreciable effort to support the fiction with scientific reasoning. For this reason, hard science fiction is not everybody's cup of tea for it takes ample amount of prior knowledge to appreciate the author's reasoning and verify the soundness and validity of the logic. I found "Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea" in a old book store and bought it for Rs 30. It was originally written by Jules Verne in French and since I am not a "foutre vous" fan, I never tried to read it, but this one is an English translation. It was first published about 150 years back.

The story is quite simple. The oceans are explored in a submarine ship in which the protagonist and two others are held against their will, until they manage to escape. The fate of the submarine is unknown after a last mishap, and the protagonist lives to tell the tale. The protagonist is a scholar in marine biology. In the title, Twenty thousand leagues (a league is 2.2 km) is the distance they travel in the submarine.

There are a few popularly interesting things about the book. Firstly, his predictions of a submarine ship came true, and the actual designs were very close to his descriptions. He had a thought quite a bit before he wrote about the vessel. The mysterious and most interesting character is Captain Nemo, of the Nautilus (name of the submarine ship) is very famous.

What struck me was the protagonist Professor Pierre Aronnax. Prof. Aronnax is not a magician nor is he shown to have off-the-charts intelligence. Prof. Aronnax is shown to be a logical man and a social one too. In the beginning of the novel, when the world is dark about the existence of this submarine ship, but there is rampant speculation about an unknown sea creature with massive destructive powers. Prof. Aronnax convinces that the object of everyones attention is a narwhal (a species of whale). Even though that the reader knows that object is a metallic contraption which the world will call it "submarine", one will be convinced that Prof. Arronax's conclusion is derived from flawless and impressive reasoning.

The other important think I noticed about the book is the careful limitation of the characters. After Prof. Arronax, is the very necessary Captain Nemo who cannot be ignored in that story. But other characters are given a low profile and a lot of the fiction being spent on the submarine zoology, artifacts and adventures. It would be hard sustain other complex human characters. The undersea adventures are multitude, for they see the south pole, Atlantis, historical shipwrecks, fictional underwater Suez canal.

It is quite possible that the author engineered Prof. Aronnax based on
himself, for the scientific reasoning did not look like part of some piecewise constructed character but a real researcher with painful attention to detail and adherence to robustness of logic.

This book is a must read for any researcher and it would not be cricket to recommend this book to everyone.

Have you read book? What are your thoughts?

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Blogger Swaroop said...

I read the 30 rupee version, in school days. Thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of underwater world being invaded for the first time inside a technological metal hunk.

Many years later, I marveled that the Nautilus was actually an all-electric powered vehicle. The captain was using an ingenious method to generate the ship's supply of electricity (using the salts of the ocean), and the metallic body of the ship, and thereby power the motor at "120 revolutions per second [sic]- to propel 1500 tons at high speed". This even by today's standards is a marvel..

Wednesday, June 20, 2007 at 3:36:00 PM CDT  

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