Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea - Jules Verne Professor Pierre Arronax and his assistant, Conseil, join the crew of the Abraham Lincoln to chase down this strange ocean mammal that has been destroying ships. The duo, along with harpooner Ned Land, end up overboard and rescued by what is revealed to be a submarine, not a mammal. This submarine is captained by Nemo, a mysterious man who has eschewed the land in preference to roaming the open seas. Nemo takes the trio twenty thousand leagues across the seas - from the Pacific to the Indian to the Mediterranean to the Atlantic. Along the way, Arronax uncovers bits and pieces about his captain and catalogs the various fish he sees.

Jules Verne is basically the Father of Science Fiction. His novels - such as "Twenty Thousand Leagues" - were groundbreaking for their time. I'd go so far to say that if it weren't for him, we wouldn't have the science fiction genre at all.

That said, this book was supremely dry and dull most of the time. Yes, it is "hard science fiction" with lots of attention to detail to the mechanics of underwater "sailing" (some of which is incredibly on the mark; others, such as the lamp lighting the way of the Nautilus, laughable and out-dated), but there comes a point when enough is enough. This is particularly prevalent when Arronax/Verne spends multiple pages describing the flora and fauna of the sea in intricate detail ("cataloging fish" into their species and genus) or having long conversations with other characters about irrelevant history (such as the electric cable stretching from the Americas to Ireland).

Again, I greatly appreciate the attention to detail and the thought Verne put into the operation of the Nautilus. That isn't my problem. And I don't mind some detail about the sights Arronax sees while traveling. But the latter in particular "sinks" the story. And when the story is as diluted and sparse as it is here, that is nearly a death warrant.

The majority of this novel reads as a travelogue, Google Maps directions, an account of someone's rather dull vacation. While there are a few scenes that are particularly interesting (the journey to the Antarctic and nearly being trapped underwater, a way too short squid attack, and some walking underwater scenes), by far most of the book is cataloging fish or boring "and on Mar 21st, we sailed from X in Y direction to Z". Yawn. What makes this is even more ridiculous is that Arronax, Ned Land, and Conseil are supposedly held prisoner aboard the Nautilus, so they do not leave and divulge its secrets elsewhere, but no one seems to care about being held against their will until suddenly they are. I'd say "Stockholm Syndrome", only they give a half-hearted struggle when Captain Nemo tells them they are stuck on the ship. Based on how it is written and how little concern these characters have to their captivity, I don't know why Verne didn't just have Captain Nemo invite Arronax to journey with him and maybe decide that he didn't WANT them to leave.

The only (and by far the best) character in this book is Captain Nemo. Sure, there is Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land, but calling them "characters" is a stretch, unless you are using the most generous of definitions of "character". Arronax is probably the best of the trio. He has some moments of humor (as a side note, there is quite a bit of humor, and it is well applied and a good break from the blandness of most of the text) and has a complicated relationship with Nemo. Ned Land would be next. His sole character trait is wanting to kill anything that moves - whales, kangaroo, tigers, you name it. Pretty much any time he appears in the story, it's to talk about wanting to kill something or escape (and honestly, he doesn't even CONSIDER escape until the last 75% of the novel). The absolute worst character, in my opinion, is Conseil. The guy makes Saltine Crackers look like they aren't bland. If you want a cold, blindly loyal servant, this is your man.

But I hesitate to blame this lack of characterization on Verne's skill as an author or the standard "But it's hard scifi, not a character study!", particularly when you have the complex character of Captain Nemo. What the other characters aren't, Captain Nemo is. Apparently, something bad happened to his wife and his children - something bad enough to make him abandon the land all together and sail in his boat, enacting revenge on passing ships. But he isn't a cold blooded killer - he stays Ned Land's hand, when Ned wants to harpoon a bunch of whales for the hell of it. (Of course, not more than a couple of paragraphs later, Nemo then slaughters a bunch of "sperm whales", so calling the guy a hypocrite is definitely in order.)

So the story is meh, the characters are meh, and the descriptions are overboard. Part of that is just me not really being that hot on the book (my dad, a retired Navy submariner, and my sister both ADORE this book and think I am mad for not). That's only a small part of "Twenty Thousand Leagues". The more important part - and the reason I think that any fan of scifi should read this book - is its influence on the genre. This is the great-great-great-great grandfather of novels like "Ender's Game" and "2001: A Space Odyssey". So in that regard, this book is priceless - it gives me a better respect for the genre I love.