Journey to the Center of the Earth may have been my first sci-fi book, and it’s hard to decide if I want to read the book as a story or as a historical document.
As a story: Jules Verne is a typical hard sci-fi author. He will teach you about geography and history and geology and then-current scientific advances in fair detail, using one-adjective characters to showcase his ideas. The irascible professor, the coward narrator, the stoic native guide, the brave love interest (who, of course, stays at home but would love to come along) travel to Iceland via Kiel and Copenhagen, down until they nearly reach the core of the Earth, and encounter some prehistoric monsters and mammoths in the huge caves, a daring escape with a wooden raft through an active volcano – but mostly rocks. Hope you like geology.
As a historical document: This book was published in 1864, and yet it reads as genre-savvy hard sci-fi, complete with both correct and made-up science, a scientific mastermind as the supporting role, and a reluctant (but secretly nerdy!) protagonist who would like nothing more but stay home. It also provides unusual amounts of travel description, and you can just picture how people who have never been to Copenhagen or Kiel or God forbid Reykjavik would follow along, learning all about how these places look. It’s charming, and the fact that the narrator has a strong (if sometimes annoying) voice makes it easy to forget that this is genuine Victorian-era sci-fi, not a more recent creation.
This book was possibly my first ever sci-fi book. I remember being faintly bewildered by the attention given to the science babble and “proving” that the center of the Earth doesn’t have to be hot. It didn’t help that the translation was old and in places awkward (though I’m told that even in the original, Verne isn’t the most poetic of authors). It certainly taught me a lot of words I have rarely had to use since then, and re-reading was a fun throwback.