Losing Nemo Created by ggrihn on 3/5/2018 8:47:32 PM
Nemo Rising, by C. Courtney Joyner
Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor
It was with great interest that I picked up Nemo Rising, hoping for a novel of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo between the events of 20,000 Leagues Beneath the Sea and Mysterious Island. While technically this is what Nemo Rising is, it was with great disappointment that I put it down.
Mr. Joyner starts with an unlikely premise: Nemo and the Nautilus have been captured by the United States government. Supposedly, Nemo was betrayed by one of his men, an American whose brother went down with the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, sunken by the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues. How this could possibly have happened, given Nemo’s water-tight (so to speak) security, is never explained. As the novel opens in 1870, Nemo is awaiting execution, being held in the infamous Libby Prison. (The Libby Prison in Richmond was a Confederate prisoner of war facility, second only to Andersonville in misery, maltreatment, and death of its inmates. Although Libby was briefly used by the Union in 1865, this was only after it was substantially upgraded, and it was closed by the end of the war. To propose that the prison would still be in use by the Union in 1870 and in its original horrific state, is a gross libel both on the Union, and on Ulysses S Grant, in particular.)
President Grant has other problems however. Foreign-flagged merchant shipping is disappearing without trace in or near American waters, and the other great powers are seeking to hold the United States responsible. Although there have been no survivors, we readers know that the ships have been sunk by a variety of mechanical monsters, including a deadly giant flying manta ray, a mechanical kraken, and acid-spewing biomechanical spiders.
With Grant’s administration at home under attack by assassins and saboteurs, the President agrees to release Nemo and give him back the Nautilus on condition he hunt down whatever is causing the carnage at sea, and report back to Grant. Of course, Nemo will deviate from the plan, but his curiosity and concern for the seas puts him at common cause with Grant.
This novel was adapted by the author from his unproduced movie script, and reads like it. The dialog is terse, repetitive, and characterlessly written, as though assuming that actors would provide expression. The author has a vastly annoying quirk of breaking up. Action scenes. Into fragments. I’m not sure if it’s that he fondly imagines that this adds excitement, or just that he can’t be bothered to expand his scene directions into actual sentences.
Mr. Joyner also has to make his version of the Nautilus even more wondrous than Verne’s. He does this in one way by giving the ship living biological gills to extract oxygen from the sea—which directly contradicts Verne, in which Nemo describes the ship’s air supply in detail, and sets up the tense situation wherein the Nautilus is trapped under the Antarctic ice. He also has to “improve” the Nautilus’ power systems. (Despite Disney-movie fueled speculations about atomic power, Verne is quite straightforward: heat from coal is converted to electricity via thermocouples, and stored in sodium batteries—which was still science-fiction in Verne’s day--.) In Rising Nemo, the Nautilus derives power from the atomic disintegration of gold. Yes, gold. I haven’t seen anyone propose anything like that since E.E. Smith’s Skylark of Space. And this is done so that the ultimate villain, who goes Nemo one better in all things, can have an even more fantastic power source.
Oh, and also Nemo has a laser gun. This isn’t something that he built new, he has it in a storage unit from before, so he could have used that to break up ice rather than the Nautilus’ ram, but for some reason didn’t--.
While making up new things for Nemo to have, Joyner forgets things Nemo did have. In 20,000 Leagues, Nemo repulses attacking natives with an electrical charge through hull elements. In order to create a similar effect in Rising Nemo, it has to be jury-rigged using Nemo’s self-invented defibrillator--.
The bookjacket notes that Mr. Joyner is a successful screenwriter. While I certainly understand the impulse to expand upon the work of others via homage (something Steampunk is rife with), there should also be a certain amount of respect for the original (either that or making good-humored fun of it). Rising Nemo smacks of the sort of entertainment-industry arrogance that makes people think they can improve on originals, such as reshooting Psycho, or colorizing Casablanca.
I found Rising Nemo seriously annoying, and not nearly entertaining.