Adam Roberts is without a question one of my favourite writers, partly due to a fact that whenever I sit down with one of his books I never ever know what am I going to get. His rampant imagination seems to be completely off the scale and his latest novel "Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea" continues this fine tradition. When it was originally announced I thought "Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea" is going to be one of his literary parodies (which, to be honest, I'm not so fond off) so I wasn't expecting much but this excellent tale is in fact a proper homage to Jules Verne's classic adventure.
"Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea" is beautiful thing to look at and since it is basically a collaboration between Adam and acclaimed artist Mahendra Singh, it also comes with 33 full page pen and ink illustrations strewn across the length of the book. Illustrations are simply glorious and perfectly fit the atmosphere. It is a great concept which I hope other authors and artists will explore further in the future. As for the story itself, it seems to be amalgam of elements taken from the original Verne and generous lashings of Adam's literary style.
Story takes place in 1958 and Plongeur, France's experimental nuclear submarine is set to embark on it's maiden voyage. On board are Captain Adam Cloche, his crew as handful of engineers and Indian nuclear scientists. But once the Plongeur dives, during a stress test things go catastrophically wrong. The submarine starts sinking, unstoppably going deeper and deeper. However, once it surpasses a point where it was supposed to be crushed by the pressure nothing happens. Submarine just keeps on sinking deeper and deeper and the pressure gauge stabilises.
So what exactly happened? For crew, it is an unreal and often unbearable turn of events and soon enough everyone caving under the pressure of sheer strangeness. Some are gripped by the religion seeing in it the afterlife and the work of God, some just go plainly mad and some see the adventure of a lifetime but no one is left unscathed. And as the submarine keeps plunging further and further, don't forget that the crew's world is revolving around them. Floors become ceilings and then minutes later walls. It is all wonderfully weird and I must admit I had trouble tracking all these spatial turmoils as they happened.
Personally, I don't think most of the writers would be able to pull off something like this but Adam, in his insane brilliance, does it with ease. His literary range truly seems to have no limits and this mad adventure, bursting with nods to both Verne and Wells, is a perfect, concentrated example of his talent. It's wildly exciting, intelligent, philosophic and innovative - and all at the same time.