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Great Introduction to the World of the Seas
on September 22, 2009
It all starts with a letter. Young Zoticus deLessups, in a message dated March 25, 1863, was invited by Professor Pierre Aronnax to join him as his assistant on "an important voyage of discovery." Aronnax, a friend of the 16-year-old deLessups's father, hopes the trip, one of oceanic research, will be educational and productive. Zoticus sets out from Marseille to Cadiz where he finds The Nautilus and Captain Nemo awaiting his arrival. So begins the richest and most inventive book in the 'Ology series so far.
Combining science, history and adventure, OCEANOLOGY explores the facts and fictions of the earth's oceans and uses the Jules Verne classic TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA as a clever framework. The idea here is that the fictional Professor Aronnax, Captain Nemo and others from the Verne novel were real figures, and Verne himself learned about them, and the fate of The Nautilus, from Zoticus deLessups (Verne having taken the name from the famous developer of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand deLessups), who lived out the rest of his life in an asylum after having created the journal that is OCEANOLOGY. As far-fetched as the setup seems, it works well here. For young readers there is the adventure of Zoticus to draw them in and the science of the ocean to keep them fascinated.
Though the book is the supposed record of the journey, it is filled with amazing information on marine biology (a seabed map, charts on ocean life at various depths, introductions to concepts such as the thermal cycle, surface currents and much, much more). Readers will also glean knowledge about navigation and navigational tools, the history of diving, coral reefs, plate tectonics, and fanciful topics like mythical ocean beasts and the myth of Atlantis.
The Victorian-era drama and aesthetic are perfectly captured in the tone of the writing and in the gorgeous illustrations. Like all the 'Ology books, this one is full of treasures and treats: tiny books within the book, fold-out maps, envelopes containing letters, gold coins and games. Most of the pictures are rendered in lovely muted colors, and the fonts are pleasing and readable. Many of the pages have texture as well; this is a wonderful book to hold and explore. The thoughtful editors have seen fit to footnote a few references, which helps to bridge the world of Verne's fiction and the realities of history and science.
Zoticus deLessups is a wonderful guide --- wide-eyed, excited and full of wonder. Much joy and much misery befall him between the letter that opens the tale and the one that lets readers know of his fate. Curious young minds will surely close the cover of this book only to open the cover of Verne's version of the events. OCEANOLOGY is a great introduction to the world of the seas and to a foundational work of science fiction.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman