Review of Twenty Trillion Leagues under the Sea
Adam Roberts seems to have a thing about legendary SF&F authors. His Twitter moniker, @arrroberts, is a tounge in cheek nod to Tolkien, and this is a Jules Verne stilübung, a stylistic exercise, where you translate a modern text to an ancient language or style, just for the sheer intellectual stimulation of it.
Like 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, its a man’s world. There are no women at all in this book, anywhere. You could see that as a inevitable result of the 1950s naval setting, but it’s also very reminiscent of classic SF like Verne or Stanislav Lem (of whom Roberts is also a fan). Surnames are used most of the time, which I generally find harder to follow than first names for some reason. (Perhaps Adam Roberts gets confused too: there are two places where the wrong character gets called Lebret, one of them page 272.)
The illustrations, by Mahendra Singh, are very moody, but probably too old school to use for the cover, sadly. Here's what the cover could have looked like. I especially like the lower one, which is very Suhrkamp Phantastische Bibliotek, exactly the sorts of books it belongs with.
I read this book within 48 hours of buying it (in Waterstones, Cambridge) and enjoyed the old-school feel of it. The plot moves along nicely and though some will dislike the tropes used for the ending, it’s fits very well with the rest of the book. Near the beginning, the author reveals that the characters never see the night sky again after the test dive of their experimental submarine, the Plongeur. This almost goes over the boundary from foreshadowing to plain spoilers, but I suppose you can’t call it a spoiler if it’s the author doing it, in-book. At any rate, there is plenty of mystery left, so it’s not as if I could then guess the rest of the story.
A good old-fashioned boys adventure for the beach, 2014. If could offer just one piece of advice to the reader it is: “Remember the sun screen”.