Jules Verne was born on February the 8th, 1828. Being the sort of writer Verne was and being born in the third decade of the 19th century was always going to place you near the beginnings of what most people consider to be SF. And with a body of work that includes Journey to the Centre of the Earth, The Clipper of the Clouds and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea your place as one of the genre’s founding talents was always going to be secure (even if most of the early translations of your work were pretty dreadful). His unfettered imagination, the way he was irresistibly drawn to adventure, his belief in science as being something that can be used to change things ensured that his influence on SF was huge. Matched only, perhaps, by HG Wells.
Whether a badly translated edition of one of his novels, or a children’s version or a technicolour Hollywood film of one of his books watched on a Sunday afternoon, Verne’s imagination has become part of our SF imagination. But under those technicolour adventures deeper thoughts and grimmer notions moved. There were dangers in Verne’s depths.
So when Adam Roberts approached me with a sequel to Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea called Twenty Trillion Leagues Under The Sea the simple mathematical exaggeration of the title was always likely not to be as light-hearted as you might think. And being an Adam Roberts book nor was this likely to be a straight forward sequel.
So Twenty Trillion Leagues is set in the 20th century. It is 1953 and a skeleton French crew, accompanied by two Indian nuclear scientists, are taking the French Navy’s first nuclear submarine out on her sea trials. The captain is not Nemo (how could he be?) but he does sport a splendid 19th century beard. He also has a somewhat 19th century view of the rights of command to go with that beard. He is a martinet. But he is a brave martinet.
Just as well because when his command takes her first dive, she keeps on going. Down, down and down. I can’t have been the only child who looked at the title of Verne’s original and thought ‘Twenty thousand leagues straight down?! (Asks dad how far a league is.) That’s impossible!’. But in Roberts’ sequel they do go straight down. Far beyond where the pressure should destroy the submarine, far below where the bottom of the sea should be, far beyond the limits of the world. Far into, in fact, another realm entirely.
On the way there are murder, madness and amazing discoveries. And at the ill-fated vessel’s final destination? An extraordinary discovery that makes this anything but the straightforward sequel that it could have been.
Roberts’ imagination has been described as one of the most untrammeled in SF. And in this book that imagination is leant an extra dimension courtesy of the work of the superb artist Mahendra Singh (look up his illustrated The Hunting of the Snark). There is something both very 19th century and very ‘other’ about Mahendra’s work. And 30 wonderful illustrations he has provided for the inside of Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea, make this a very special collaboration. Not just a sequel to Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea but a tribute to Verne himself.
You’ll have to wait for a glimpse of Mahendra’s illustrations here but we can show you Black Sheep’s wonderful cover design.
Come back here in the future for more news on this project. But in the meantime if you check out Adam’s twitter avi at @arrroberts you’ll catch a sneaky preview of one of Mahendra’s illustrations (and while you’re on twitter check out Mahendra himself at @mahendra_snark).