Book Review: Adam Roberts’ Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea

This book is insane, and I mean that in the absolute best possible way. The only way I can describe it is as the lovechild of Jules Verne (to whom the book is very much a tribute), Edwin Abbot, and Albert Camus. The book follows the French nuclear submarine Plongeur on its shakedown voyage in 1958. When catastrophe strikes, the skeleton crew prepares for death as the ship plummets downwards towards the seafloor. And keeps plummeting, and plummeting, and plummeting, until they realize that they’ve traveled far beyond the depth of the Earth’s core, then past the other side of the Earth, then even farther, and yet pressure stays manageable, even survivable to a naked human. The crew confronts leviathans, underwater suns, terrifying piranha children (childranha), and each other, as they descend into madness, religious madness, and violence.

The characters in this one aren’t especially likeable, with one or two exceptions, but they are nonetheless compelling- there is a reason I compared this book to Albert Camus. As the end draws closer and closer, the book grows steadily madder and more bizarre, with more and more unanswered questions rearing their heads. When you finally start to get more answers, well… it just brings up even more questions. I’m not going to spoil the ending, but there is definitely a very, very good reason I brought up Edwin Abbot.

The internal illustrations by Mehendra Singh are absolutely perfect for this book- the faux-woodcut appearance is immediately evocative of Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, H.G. Wells- it immediately screams 1800’s adventure novel. They’re absolutely perfect for the book.

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea is a slim volume, but definitely one worth the read. It’s the kind of bizarre, trippy weirdness that has been so long absent from science fiction. I just wish I’d noticed this one when it came out last year, instead of just now discovering it.

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