N3 Commentary: Jules Verne

In N3. Captain Nemo Professor Akayama builds islands by tearing underwater magma vents. She finds a living human inhabiting the islands much sooner than she expected. She names the man Nemo, most likely after the character Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s stories like 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea rather than the fish-kid from Finding Nemo.

I can’t do Jules Verne justice (because I haven’t even read any Jules Verne) but I know someone who can: the folks at Extra Credits have a series about sci-fi. I love the Extra Credits team, as they exhibit unbridled passion for everything they do from video-game design to history series. Watch that video and all their other videos, too, I’ll wait.

Anyway, I’d like to speak specifically about Captain Nemo. Thanks to Wikipedia I can pretend to know what I’m talking about: Captain Nemo, also known as Prince Dakkar, is the inventor and pilot of the Nautilus, a submarine in which he secludes himself from society. In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea he lives in self-imposed exile and shocks his crew with his commitment to vengeance against the society which wronged him.

He also fights off a giant octopus. At the time, political cartoons and sci-fi stories used an octopus or squid to represent the stranglehold of imperialism and eventually economic monopolies. Jules Verne perhaps borrows the symbol to show Captain Nemo’s battle against the bonds of society.

In Akayama DanJay Professor Akayama built a spaceship called the Hurricane, and now she’s trapped by the cosmic horror it has become. While Captain Nemo fights the tentacles of society in his Nautilus, Akayama is separated from society by her own tentacled creation, unwillingly. Perhaps Akayama names her first human Nemo as a defense mechanism. “I’m not trapped here,” she says, “Captain Nemo wasn’t trapped by his Nautilus. Here’s my Nemo. Here’s my empowerment. Here’s my individuality. You’re not the Hurricane’s pawn, and neither am I.”

Akayama’s first human, Nemo, is naturally terrified. Akayama is a giant bird creature now. While Verne’s Captain Nemo eventually repulses his crew with his desire for revenge, Akayama initially repulses her human named Nemo with the horrific physical figure she has become.

I named this character Nemo because I thought it sounded cool. If I’m implying I did anything intentionally, I apologize. A huge part of writing is doing whatever you want and fixing it later or justifying it retroactively.

Anyway, we already know how Nemo’s story ends. He becomes an immortal religious figure whose teachings become too austere. He ejects himself from his own society to protect his own religion from himself. Rather than retire in a submarine, he walks into a permanent cloud and never returns. Still his teachings haunt the dreams of his protege for generations.

Retroactively speaking, I think this contrasts nicely with Captain Nemo. While Captain Nemo uses his ingenuity and cunning to escape a humanity he hates, Akayama’s Nemo was assigned his name by a god-like figure trying to establish her own independence by proxy. He’s created by a god and given the title of someone who seeks independence. That’s a big burden to put on someone’s shoulders in their first day of existence. Even from a philosophical standpoint, if Akayama’s Nemo remains independent of the Hurricane, isn’t he just obeying Akayama? That’s not independence at all!

Akayama’s Nemo can’t escape to fantastical undersea adventures for his freedom. His quest to live freely will take him to permanent seclusion on an obscured mountain peak on an island in the most isolated area of the world.

This contrasts notions of independence. Captain Nemo left society because of what it did to him. Akayama’s Nemo will leave society because of what he does to it. Meanwhile, Leo expects society conform to his own notion of freedom.

Coincidentally, Captain Nemo dies in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. His last words are, according to Wikipedia,

“God and my country!” (“Independence!”, in Verne’s original manuscript)

Even Jules Verne had his Nemo’s independence tainted by alignment to some superior: an editor or publisher who thought God and country were more appropriate. Akayama will certainly have difficulty securing freedom for her own Nemo.

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