Originally published in 2002, Anderson’s novel Captain Nemo: The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius, was unceremoniously released and just as quickly disappeared due to what Anderson himself calls a “publisher implosion”. Thankfully, Titan Books has just released the author’s preferred text in a lovely new paperback with a steam-punk cover and a big push for exposure, which landed a copy in my lap.
The basic conceit behind Captain Nemo is that many of the details of Jules Verne’s very famous and very wonderful fantasies were based on fact. More to the point, they were mostly comprised of the actual experiences of Andre Nemo, childhood friend of Verne and unparalleled explorer of distant corners of the world. Anderson approaches this idea by treating the story as a fictionalized biography of Jules Verne, but switching focus between Verne, Nemo and their mutual friend and romantic interest, Caroline Arronax (who also happens to write music under the nom de plume “Passepartout” – there are endless ‘easter eggs’ like that for Verne fans). A very brief idea of what gets the ball rolling – separated as teenagers, Nemo heads out to sea as Verne is pushed into his fathers footsteps as a country lawyer. Nemo is lost at sea and presumed dead but is actually stranded on what will become Verne’s Mysterious Island, as Caroline Arronax (still pining for Nemo) is married off to a much older sea captain. Verne moves to Paris to study law, but secretly becomes a fiction writer, partially under the tutelage of Alexandre Dumas. Eventually Nemo returns, telling Verne of his escapades on the island and at the center of the Earth. Nemo and Caroline take a balloon across Africa and Verne finally realizes how to become a successful author… and then the second half of the book begins! The story barrels on into more action, adventure, romance and fantasy, exactly like one of Monsieur Verne’s magnificent tales, with Nemo and friends embarking on a series of further adventures that inform books like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the World in 80 Days and A Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
All of this is handled in deft strokes with as much care and feeling for the characters as we’ve come to expect from modern literature. Despite the fantastic situations and the invisible walls that are inherent to creating something within a known universe, Anderson makes all three of the main characters equally important, equally human and endlessly entertaining. Nemo is an iconic character, too often defined by Disney films and TV movies, and Anderson has truly brought him back into his own as an amazing example of strength and fortitude, a decent and caring human being, a rogue, a genius and a dark, broken man. I was thoroughly riveted by the end of the third short chapter and could hardly bear to not be buried in this book every spare minute until I was finished. It was a dashing, exciting, rollicking good time – like Errol Flynn in a James Cameron film. Big, blustery, crazy and so much damn fun that I really didn’t want it to end. When it did inevitably end, I found myself clambering for my dog-eared Jules Verne novels and loading my Kindle up with as much Kevin J Anderson as I had space for. Captain Nemo: The Fantastic Adventures of a Dark Genius has shot to the “favorites” list and renewed my love for a good ol’ action/adventure yarn. Hopefully at least one of the two rumored Hollywood Nemo films that are possibly in production will do the dark genius the justice he deserves. The justice that Kevin J. Anderson has already given him in the pages of his great book.