Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Invasion of the Sea

Published by Wesleyan University Press, 2001
Written by Jules Verne
Reviewed by Lee Strong, the Librarian of St. Gilda’s

I am certainly glad that Monsieur Verne is publishing again. Being dead for 105 years showed him down considerably and it’s good to see that he’s back at work. Unfortunately, he’s still not back up to par.

This novel is a rather pitiful little travelogue masquerading as a science fiction novel. The invading sea of the title refers to a serious 19th (and 20th and 21st) Century idea to create an inland sea by flooding parts of the Sahara Desert. The goal would be to improve the climate and transportation potential of the area and, incidentally, create a military barrier to 19th Century Tuareg caravan raiders. In Verne’s novel, the plan is put into motion by one company and taken over by another in the future year of 1930. The prospect of no longer being able to raid European colonial commerce upsets the local Arabs who promptly seize the surveyors checking on the work in progress. The latter easily escape their captors and a convenient earthquake ex machina creates the sea and some minor suspense.

This story is pretty much Verne’s last work and it clearly shows it. All of the potentially interesting macro-engineering work is handled off stage by the earlier company and earthquake. The European surveyors simply ride or walk across the landscape talking about dates – the edible kind – sand dunes and Arab distemper. The anti-colonial Arabian characters are somewhat more interesting but their story is reduced to cheap melodrama. In the end, the most interesting characters are a European horse and dog. The entire story is a sad anti-climax for the creator of the brooding Captain Nemo and the fabulous Nautilus.

I rate the disappointing Invasion of the Sea as a mere 2 stars on the 5 star scale as being only marginal science fiction with a weak plot. I’d rate the book lower but the appendices provide some interesting information on Verne’s work, past translations, and Wesleyan University Press’ plans to bring quality Verne translations to the Anglo-Saxon audience.

Liquid Ether is pleased to return to publication with this review by the inestimable Mr. Strong. We hope that all our readers have enjoyed their holidays, and look forward to another productive year.