Adventure in the Vernian Underworld


When I was selecting the next lot of books that I was planning to read (I generally grab about five or six and put them on a pile on my dining room table so I don’t have to spend time working out my next book after my last one, and so that I always have at least two or three books in my bag in case I finish one while I am out) my eyes passed over this old Jules Verne book. To say that I’m a fan of the father of science fiction is a bit of an understatement, and since I hadn’t read this book in a while I decided to grab it. I really enjoyed it the first time I read it, and when that Brendan Fraser film came out I have to say that I enjoy it every time I watch it (I also own a copy). Actually, isn’t it funny that films are characterised more by the main actors than they are by the directors, unless that director happens to be Quentin Tarrantino (among others), but that is just a side note.
Anyway, here is a trailer:

Anyway, as I was reading this classic for a second time my mind suddenly began to race – what if this actually happened, and what if Verne’s cold underworld were a reality? How would this change the world in which we live. Anyway, before I go on, for those who may not know, here is a brief synopsis of the story.

An Extraordinary Adventure

Basically a scientist, Otto Lidenbrock and his nephew Alex, discover a piece of parchment in an old book. It turns out that not only is it written in ancient Icelandic runes, but it is also heavily encypted. So, after many sleepless nights Alex suddenly works out the key and they discover that it is a message written by a medieval Icelandic explorer Arne Saknussemm giving them directions to a cave that leads to the centre of the Earth. So, wasting no time (as they needed to be there on one particular day for the entrance to be revealed) they jump on a ship and head off to Iceland.

The story pretty much runs as an adventure into an extraordinary world; one of caves and lost monsters. It is purely an adventure story – there is no antagonist, unless one considers the underworld to be the antagonist that they must over come, and as is typical with many of Verne’s books there is a very heavy dose of scientific exposition. However Verne does this in a way that still makes the book incredibly enthralling. While he talks about geological formations, the nature of rock strata, and of course volcanic lava, we are dragged into this magical world. While he does talk about these things he does not let the detail undermine the story itself.

Of course the theory of the cold Earth is one that isn’t accepted, but it is a theory that has been hanging around with us for centuries. One could argue that the idea of a hot earth is a conspiracy theory that has been made up to prevent us from digging too deep and the only evidence that people point to is the lava that comes out of the volcanoes. Mind you, as far as I’m concerned, that lava is pretty good evidence to convince me that the deeper you go, the hotter the world becomes, and travelling into the depths of a volcano may not be all that inducive of a long and fruitful life.
Anyway, enough of the book, and the science (however flawed) behind it, since I have already written a review on Goodreads (and Booklikes, depending on which site you prefer). Rather, let us go into the magical realm of the Vernian underworld, beginning with what happened to Otto and Axel upon their return to the surface world.


Challenging the Consensus

Well, we do learn a few things about Arne Sakmussemm (though for some reason when I think of Arne I sort of think of another Arne – anyway, we don’t actually know what he looks like so lets just say he looked like some body building Austrian that likes pretending to be a killer robot) in the story, and other than the fact that he originally made the perilous journey, it is not until our intrepid heroes arrive in Iceland they discovered that the guy was a hero. However, when Liddenbrock asks if he can read some of his books we discover that there are none – in fact they were all destroyed because Sakmussemm was considered a heretic.

It is an interesting thought, and one wonders why Verne suggests that (though it may simply have been a plot device). Anyway, since Sakmussemm lived in the 16th century hereabouts, there is probably a much more logical explanation than just a simple plot device. Scientific exploration was only just beginning at the time and there was still a lot of superstition. Now, people believed that hell existed beneath the Earth (no doubt thanks to the Greeks) so when somebody travelled into the centre of the Earth and came back telling everybody what he had seen, no doubt the reaction would have been  “This guy’s gone to hell”. Well, he could have explained that when he went down there he didn’t see any hell, but I doubt anybody would have listened. Instead they probably were already building the bonfire before he could even begin to tell his story.

So, fast forward to the end of the 19th century and another crazy scientist, who was last seen boarding a ship to Iceland, appears in Italy claiming that he has just made this amazing journey through the centre of the Earth and had just been spat out of Etna. Well, Verne suggests as he wraps up the story that his tale was met with derision and curiosity. However what didn’t happen to him was to discover what being the main attraction at a witch burning was like. In fact his nephew ends up going and marrying his high school sweet heart (or thereabouts).

So, Liddenbrock, not only having survived the perils of the centre of the Earth, has also brought back evidence of his adventure (and while nothing is mentioned in the book, the movie suggests that this evidence included a bunch of diamonds), So, the first things that most explorers would do when they return with tales of grand adventure is to immediately prepare for their next adventure. Well, Axel decides to bail out of this one (he’s just got married, and his wife isn’t all that keen on letting him go gallivanting off to all corners of the Earth again), but there are a number of prominent geologists and zoologists (who are interesting in learning about the life beneath the Earth), as well as some hearty adventurers.

So, with a fully funded expedition, they head off to the volcano and establish a base in the crater. Liddenbrock now knows which tunnel is the correct tunnel, so there is no need to time the journey correctly. Instead the scientists establish a base camp, as well as a route back to Reykjavik. With a supply line established they then begin their descent. At the bottom a group of engineers remain to establish a much easier return route than the route Liddenbrock took on the way out, and Liddenbrock then leads his team deeper into the caverns where they establish a second base at Port Grauben. While initially a temporary settlement, they intend to make this a permanent base of operations. With the supply lines established, Liddenbrock is then able to complete his quest to reach the centre of the Earth.

The Fledgling Colony

Liddenbrock never returns to the surface, spending the rest of his life based at Port Grauben and exploring the countless caverns that spread out across the region. However, upon his death, his body is returned to Hamburg where he is laid to rest. He is honoured as a hero in Iceland and is commemorated with numerous statues. He is also commemorated in his home city of Hamburg. Liddenbrock’s discoveries end up changing the scientific community’s understanding of geology, and his writings end up becoming the standard texts throughout Western Europe. As for the world beneath the surface, his name begins to appear everywhere, with the sea being named the Liddenbrock sea.

However, things aren’t all that easy for the fledgling colony. While a supply route has been established, the colony has a lot of difficulties being self-sufficient. Since there is no light down there they must constantly generate power to produce artificial light. Also, crops are not able to be grown so much of the staples need to be brought from the surface, and this turns out to be a very expensive process. However the mineral wealth beneath the Earth is extra-ordinary, so food is paid for through precious gems and other minerals. However, once again the route is difficult. Meat isn’t a problem as the Liddenbrock Sea is teaming with life, and quickly a fishing community begins to evolve. Also the scientists begin to study the plant and animal life in the depths and soon discover alien plants that are able to meet their needs.

The world under the earth isn’t a safe place though, as Liddenbrock discovered in his first foray. Not only is there an absence of light, but many of the prehistoric creatures that once roamed the Earth now exist down here. However they have evolved. The lack of light means that they no longer rely upon their eyes, and instead rely upon sonar. This puts the colonists at a disadvantage, at least at the beginning. While Port Grauben is safe from incursions, when they journey out across the Liddenbrock Sea they suddenly discover a wild and untamed land. As such further expansion, at least at this stage, is not possible.

As technological innovation expands on the surface, these developments, in particular the electric light, and the machine gun, begin to make their way down here. The problem is that this region lies below the coal fields,and as such coal and oil need to be brought down to be able to provide electric power. However, the need for such power means that such technology begins to develop much quicker. Yet there is one major problem – the smoke has nowhere to go. Then World War I breaks out.

Cut Off

When war breaks out on the continent the people beneath the Earth suddenly discover that their supplies lines, while not cut, are not bringing as much in as previously. The supplies are needed much more above ground than they are down here, so they are diverted. The colony has grown, and there are now a number of first generation Deep Earthers (as they are known, and the region has now been given the name Deep Earth) have reached adulthood, some of them having never seen the surface. By this time the route between Iceland and Port Grauben has been firmly established and is regularly travelled. In fact a form of train line has been built along the route (as well as another line connecting Rekjevik and the volcano, though there is also a port at its base).

World War I turns out to be a very trying time for the colony, and food begins to be rationed. Grains and other surface foods simply stop arriving, forcing the colonists to rely upon what they can gather from the local region. However there is something that they are able to produce – and produce in quantity – gunpowder. This proves to be a boon (as well as the machine gun), as they are now equipped to attempt to move into other parts of Deep Earth. The problem is that their adversaries do not rely on sight, but this also means that they are very susceptible to sound. The Deep Earther’s deal with this by making lots of sound when they start heading into uncharted territory. This has the effect of scrambling the natives’ senses and thus giving the Deep Earthers an advantage.

The war drags on for four years, and the Deep Earthers are forced to become more self sufficient. The first couple of years saw the onset of famine, as well as diseases arising due to lack of certain dietary requirements. However once the war comes to an end, and the armistice is signed, trade resumes. Despite this, interest in Deep Earth has begun to wane with other interests beginning to take the fore up on the surface. In a way the Deep Earthers, while acknowledged, simply become the norm. However the colony continues to grow.

The Great Migration

On of the problems that the Deep Earthers discovered was that producing power through the use of coal-fired plants was not so much inefficient, but it would quickly result on fouling up the limited atmosphere. In fact it quickly became evident that burning coal in the Deep Earth was simply unsustainable, however they needed electricity to be able to produce light. As such the scientists and engineers began to experiment with other forms of electrical generation, and ended up settling on hydro-power. With a number of underground rivers rushing through the caverns the Deep Earthers realised that they could harness the water to generate power. While the power being generated wasn’t huge amounts, it was enough to provide them with their immediate needs. However they continued their research into ways of generating clean energy.

On the surface the 1920s went into full swing and economic prosperity swept the west (with the exception of Germany). Unfortunately, being somewhat cut off from the rest of the world, Deep Earth, while going through its own prosperity, didn’t enjoy the benefits as much as those on the surface. What this period did bring about were huge advances in technology, in particular engineering. The route between Port Grauben and the surface was electrified and a new rail-line was installed. The trip would now take only two hours. The settlement at the base of  the volcano, as well as the one in the crater, has also grown somewhat, having now become essential to trade with the Deep Earthers. However another event was about to strike the modern world, one which would have further impact upon the inhabitants under the Earth – the stock market crash.

All of a sudden the world is plunged into a decade long economic depression, and many have been left out of work. The turmoil hits the Deep Earth, but not as hard as other parts of the world since its economy was not as heavily tied into the world economy. In a way Deep Earth is still very much a fledgling colony, though it is slowly growing in size and importance. What does happen is that they discovered that there isn’t a huge need for their resources as there was previously, yet there was still a great need down there for food. However the colony has capacity for employment, which means that word begins to spread and a period known as the Great Migration begins.

Hearing of opportunities in this new world many began to book passage across the ocean to Iceland in the hope of finding fortune beneath the Earth (and at this stage there was only one entrance to Deep Earth, which was to prove very important in the years to come). The flood of migrants hit the docks of Rekjavik and many of them began to move along the coast to the entrance. However shanty towns began to form on the outskirts of the Icelandic Capital, as well as at the two towns on the volcano. Also being hit by the depression, the Icelanders began to show ever increasing resentment towards these foreigners, and soon the borders were closed and ships were being sent away.

As these towns began to grow in size, and as Iceland simply did not have the capacity to be able to deal with the huge influx of people, the government began to look for ways to deal with the problem, and the solution was to encourage them to migrate into the Deep Earth. However there was a problem for the Deep Earthers as well – they simply could not absorb the population. Like the surface, a huge shanty town began to form below as well. However one thing that Deep Earth did have was space, and many of the migrants began to move out to find their own patch of land.

This wasn’t to prove all that successful though since the lack of light, and the hostile environment, meant that life in Deep Earth was in fact much harsher than was life in the slums on the surface. However the government of Iceland, who had already anticipated that many of the migrants would want to return, closed the border between Deep Earth and the surface so only those with special permission were allowed to traverse to the surface. This started causing significant problems in Port Grauben as food shortages began to hit.

Not everything was that bad as the region was still developing and the influx of new skills meant that development continued to grow at a significant rate. As previously mentioned, electricity generation was proving to be a significant problem, and people were hesitant to head out into the darkness from Port Grauben (due mainly to the lack of light). Some migration occurred and explorers begun to move out to other parts of the realm, creating maps and forming settlements where hydro-electric generators could be established.

However as the citizens (for want of a better word) began to expand out to the corners of Deep Earth they began ever more to come into conflict with the original inhabitants. The dinosaurs and giants who lived down here resented the incursions and began to fight back resulting in clashes on the fringes of the colony. It was when a major mining settlement, Jorgansburg (named after the first colonial governor of Deep Earth) was attacked and practically destroyed, that the citizens of Deep Earth realised that something needed to be done.

Europe Ablaze

As tensions began to rise between the natives of Deep Earth and the colonists, on the surface Hitler and Japan had begun their relentless campaigns to conquer the world. Iceland, fortunately, was spared the relentless onslaught of the Nazi war machine, and having closed its borders due to the huge influx of migrants, pretty much remained isolated from the rest of the world. This in turn created problems for the Deep Earthers, since weaponry was suddenly quite hard to come by. As such they were forced to begin to produce their own weaponry, notably machine guns and rocket launchers, due to the size and ferocity of the creatures below the surface.

The war wasn’t going all that well for the Deep Earthers due to the problems generating light. As such many of the inhabitants were forced to retreat to fortified cities where they could use the light to their advantage, and they discovered that when they ventured out into the darkness they would inevitably be ambushed and attacked. Realising that they needed an advantage to be able to claim this world as their own their scientists began to work on another development – air power.

Planes simply were not practicable in the caverns of the Deep Earth, so working on the technology that had been developed in the world above, they managed to fast track the development of the helicopter. Helicopters have already been developed, however they were not yet in mass production. Needing an advantage over the native Deep Earthers, the colonists began to funnel a lot of resources into their development, with success. Yet there was still significant problems with using these machines in the caverns beneath the Earth – it was still dark and even with lights they would usually discover obstacles, such as the roof or walls, when it was too late. As such they needed a way to be able to detect such obstacles much easier.

Alongside the development of the helicopter, the Deep Earthers also funnelled resources into radar technology. At that time radar was incredibly bulky, but they needed a way of using the technology on the helicopter. In addition to radar they also developed sonar technology, managing to bring it down to a decent size to be able to fit on the helicopter. The technology wasn’t perfect, but it began to give them an advantage, particularly in making the dangerous treks between the fortified towns. While this didn’t solve all of their problems, it began to make life easier.

Nuclear Revolution

Two massive explosions in Japan marked the end of one of the bloodiest wars in history, but also the start of a new era – the Nuclear Age. While it had come to the realisation that humanity now had the power to completely eradicate themselves, there was also a new way of generating electricity without needing to resort to burning fossil fuels – Nuclear Power. Now that the war was over, and the trade routes once again open (and the government of Iceland had also reopened its borders), scientists travelled to the United States and Britain to discover this new technology.

At first the Western powers were hesitant to share this technology with them, fearing that it might end up being used against them, however when the Russians began to court the Deep Earthers, President Truman immediately signed a treaty of mutual co-operation. They would provide them with the technology to produce nuclear power in return for their rotor craft, radar, and sonar technology. As such, with a new clean form of energy, the Deep Earth was finally about to move out of their dark age.

The first nuclear power plant came on line in Port Grauben in 1950, with a number of others coming about soon after. However this started to concern the Russians, fearing that the Deep Earthers could assault them from beneath the ground. The Deep Earthers’ technology suddenly began to grow at an extraordinary rate, particularly with minaturisation of sonar and radar systems, as well as helicopters. The Deep Earthers, with their new technology, began to move out across the caverns once again. Along with the technology, knowing that fuel resources would be difficult to come by, also began to develop electric powered vehicles, though many of them at first were quite large, to compensate for the batteries required to power the vehicles. However, with the rather dangerous creatures below, this was necessary, and through the use of tanks and armour columns, they began to forge highways between Port Grauben and the outlying colonies.

Suddenly the cold war began to move up a notch, and the Russians became concerned that the Deep Earthers could pose a threat to their national security. Explorers had continued to map out the caverns beneath the Earth, and despite the hostile environment, began to look for other possible entrances and exits. These maps were considered top secret, however security wasn’t has tight as it could be as a number of these maps came into possession of both the Americans and the Russians. The Americans began to look for ways of connecting Deep Earth with their own continent, and were also considering a direct route to Port Grauben. The Russians, who were much closer, also considered this, and both powers began to drill holes.

This forced the Deep Earthers to become quite concerned, particularly since for most of their existence there was only one entrance into their world. Security over the maps of Deep Earth was tightened significantly, and the region became ever more militarised. The Icelandic entrance was considered to the the only entrance to the colony, so the government began to seek out other parts where potential entrances could exist and establishing secure border posts. However they were unaware of where the Russians where drilling, despite knowing that they were doing so.

The Americans were the first to break through into the caverns, however they had sent delegates to the Deep Earthers to arrange trade agreements so that they could use their entrance. This incised the Russians who then sent a fleet to Iceland in an attempt to force the Americans to back down. As the Russian fleet steamed across the North Sea, Iceland cried out to it’s allies in the West, and suddenly ships were moving out from harbours across Europe and America to confront the Russian fleet. As a result there was a tense standoff that lasted three months, before the Russians backed down.

The initial reason for this military action was to force Iceland, and the Deep Earth, to declare neutrality, however a show of force off the coast of Iceland suddenly became no longer necessary – the Russians had broken through into Deep Earth. Now there were three entrances, at least known, to enter the underworld, and the advantage that the Americans had was now nullified. However, instead of launching an invasion of Port Grauben and the Deep Earth colonies, the Russians simply established their own colony.

The Prison Pit

Upon breaking through into the Deep Earth the Russians immediately established a forward military base and began to explore the immediate region. They soon discovered that the route to Port Grauben was not direct, and that they had their own, mostly uninhabited, region to explore. They immediately declared everything down to the Earth’s core to be Russian territory, and the Americans quickly followed suit. As such a military build up in the depths of the Earth began, with the United States also establishing a colony and a military base.

The Russians also realised that Deep Earth would prove a much better place to send prisoners than Siberia, particularly since these prisoners could be put to work building the colony. The Americans also saw this potential, however at this stage their prisons had yet to be overflowing. However, the world under the ground proved to be a great place to send people serving long prison sentences, and could also be put to work establishing colonies. As such the era of prisoner transportation began again.


Deep Earth Today

In many ways the events on the surface world continued in much the same was as they did in our world. The Cuban Missile Crisis still occurred, as did Vietnam. The Soviet Union still collapsed, however Russia still retained control of their underground possessions. As the Chinese economic miracle took off, China also began to descend into the depths of the Earth, however that did have an impact upon the rest of the world – the China driven resource boom did not last as long as it did. While China was beginning to dig into the Earth, they still required resources.

There were two major events that had a significant impact upon the world below – Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. These nuclear incidents (Three Mile Island was nowhere near as bad as Chernobyl) suggested that further research was needed to produce safe and reliable nuclear energy. The Deep Earthers had already worked to protect their plants from tectonic activity, but they realised that they needed stronger fail safe systems to prevent a catastrophic accident. In fact they were so reliant upon nuclear power that simply moving to a new form of energy was not feasible. There was also the problem of waste, and huge caverns suddenly began to be set aside to dump used fuel rods.

Realising the danger of fission power, and also the problems of disposing of nuclear waste, meant that the Deep Earthers put much more resources into the development of fusion power. As such they became the first country to build a working fusion plant. Immediately they began to decommission their fission plants to replace them with fusion plants. This resulted in greater power output and much less waste. Along side this they also developed much better food production techniques – the energy produced by nuclear power meant that they could now begin to grow produce under the ground. Suddenly large underground farms began to develop, and the nation began to expand. This, of course, led to conflicts with the current inhabitants, but they were slowly pushed further and further out.

As for the United States – well, as was suggested above, their burgeoning prison population was replaced with what came to be known as ‘The Prison Pit’. People sentenced to long years in prison weren’t sent to prisons on the surface, but thrown into what has effectively become a lawless underworld. When one is sent into the pit, one can never expect to return. This is what also happened as the War on Terror began, especially once the CIA had finished with their interrogations. This in turn had the result of creating a large group of radical Islamists. Of course this was in the prison pit, and numerous factions arose to fight amongst themselves. Other countries also began to follow suit, transporting their most notorious criminals (and many political prisoners) deep into the Earth to be forgotten about.

Mind you, the original Deep Earthers really didn’t like this, but they ended up sealing tunnels that would lead to these prison pits, and relegated themselves to claiming and settling areas that could not be claimed by any surface nation.


Creative Commons License
Adventure in the Vernian Underworld by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

“Earth poster” by Kelvinsong – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons
“Arnold Schwarzenegger February 2015” by Koch / MSC. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 de via Commons
“Snaefellsjökull” by wolfgangbeyer at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons  


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