The year is 1858. The prison ship Moira
brings a group of convicts to the island of Laukona, a dreadful place where political misfits are sent for life to work in salpeter mines.
In their midst is a reclusive scientist almost driven mad by torture and the loss of his family, who upon arriving in prison is only registered as Nemo
.As he slowly recovers, he gathers around him a group of other inmates just as eager to escape as he is, each with useful skills and as decent a man as one can find in such a place.
Amongst them, the Maori Manu, a fiercely protective warrior; Jonas Boothby, a former captain turned smuggler; Solomon Jones, an escaped slave; Jacques Berneaux and Leo Piette, a tandem of French con-artists, and Oliver Rushton, an artisan who accidentaly found himself on the wrong side of the law. All in all, twenty-four men who manage to escape and steal the island supply ship, heading for unknown territories. Along with three sailors stationned on the stolen ship, they discover a remote island and settle there, until a landslide destroys their way out and forces them to dismantle their frigate and turn her into something entirely new: an autonomous, long-range submarine.
The story was written and published by life-long fan Pat Regan, also a celebrated builder of submarine replicas.
The novel Vulcanium shows examples of the following tropes:
- Above Good and Evil: Played with; none of the men consider what they do as "evil" but some - Nemo amongst them - are reluctant to either kill people or sink ships. At first.
- An Arm and a Leg: Chopra, Dakkar's right-hand man, lost both his legs in the fire that destroyed the family mansion. However, he managed to survive, and now lives as a beggar.
- Applied Phlebotinum: The "vulcanium" used to power the submarine and the base is completely fictionnal and we don't even know how it's made; averted with the Nautilus and the diving suits: since Regan built them as a hobby, he knows exactly how it must be done to work properly.
- Arc Words: Nostra Facimus Monstra (we make our own monsters), from Jacques Berneaux's tattoo; "C'est la guerre" (it's war), used regularly by Berneaux and then Nemo; "I don't think we need to vote on this", both the Chief and Boothby's catchphrase.
- Army of Thieves and Whores: Where to begin? Manu killed two sailors in a bar brawl, Boothby's criminal record contains smuggling, street fighting, piracy and several (possibly accidental) deaths, Berneaux is a thief, con artist and murderer, his friend Piette is a former soldier of the Legion Etrangere turned crook...
- Asshole Victim: The Commandant of Laukona island, Gallagher, and in a way, Ruddle are such bastards that you cannot really feel sorry for them when they die. In-universe, no one does.
- Berserk Button: Do not, under any circumstances, threaten Nemo while Manu is nearby. It could cost you some teeth at best, and your life at worst.
- Similarly, Pratap Dakkar (Nemo's father) will have your head on a spike if you even think of harming his family - such course of action does not end well for him either...
- Black Dude Dies First: Avoided, the Irishman Gallagher dies first, but Solomon Jones is still a close second.
- Boom, Headshot: Berneaux disposes of Gallagher, who almost got them caught on purpose by shooting him in the head.
- Burial at Sea: after the Chief dies in his sleep, his body is left aboard the Koru when she is destroyed, and sinks with her.
- Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Averted. There are two Frenchmen in the team and they are amongst the most aggressive and ressourceful of the lot; they also never back down from a fight.
- Continuity Nod: Boothby is prompt to start a fistfight without warning and is able to defeat almost any man on his path. Something that Ned Land will learn the hard way a bit later.
- The hooker hired by Berneaux when he sneaks in San Francisco for news and equipment is a lovely black-haired girl wearing bright red lipstick and a blue dress, a description that fits the appearance of one of Ned's girlfiends at the beginning of the movie.
- At the end of the book Manu is killed when the Abraham Lincoln attacks the submarine, so the funerals seen at the beginning of the movie are his.
- When the team captures the Koru, they find aboard an entire library that contains, amongst other things, Pr. Aronnax's works on aquatic life, which are mentionned during the movie and the original novel.
- Cool Ship: the Nautilus, of course; the frigate Koru, formerly the German battleship Dreizack, is also a beautiful thing, according to the convicts that stole her, so much that they really wish they did not have to cut her apart to build their sumbarine.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Being blasted by the explosion of your ship is bad enough, but so far, the worst death happens when a sailor from the Nautilus is torn to shreds by the sub propeller.
- Deadpan Snarker: Boothby and the Chief are particularly sarcastic, but the king of this trope is probably the Security Officer on Laukona who, upon finding his boss face down on his plate after choking on his dinner, just remarks "Well, it's not exactly how I had imagined I would replace you..."
- Does Not Like Guns: Nemo is really not fond of them, and if Berneaux has no troubles using a gun, it seems he prefers knives.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Upon being embarked for Laukona, all the convicts get a number branded in their forearm.
- Doomed by Canon: Since the book is based on the Disney movie, and the crew there is entirely European, it is easy to say that the Maori Manu and the African American Solomon Jones will not make it.
- Driven to Suicide: Invoked twice:after his family's murder, Nemo tries to kill himself by jumping through a window, and fails. Then the unnamed rulers who sent Nemo to Laukona hope this trope will work for him, and that he will finally hang himself in his cell. This time, they fail.
- Due to the Dead: After Chief dies in his sleep, his fellow crewmen lay him on the deck of the Koru before they sink her, to make sure the old man will never leave his beloved ship.
- Exact Words: When Nemo is locked up in an remote cell far from any other inmate, the administrator of the camp orders his subordinates to write down they have no one in isolation. They lampshade the fact, thinking it's quite funny.
- Good Is Not Nice: Compared to the military conglomerate set against them, the crew of the submarine are certainly the good guys, but that does not make them nice little angels.
- Gory Indiscretion Shot: After the Nautilus destroys a first ammunition ship, we're treated with a graphic description of a corpse, partially burnt and dismembered by the explosion.
- Gratuitous French: Since two members of the crew are French, there are lot of French expressions thrown in the dialogue, not always translated by the author. Also, since Pat Regan lives in Hawaii, he could not resist adding a lot of gratuitous Polynesian as well.
- Guile Hero: Since they are outnumbered and on the run, the escaped convicts use wits, acting skills and stealth each time they are forced to go on dry land. Some do it with more style than the others, though.
- Heel-Face Turn: At first it looks like Jonas Boothby will be the most dangerous enemy Nemo and Manu will have to face on the prison island, but after some lenghty discussions - and being sucker-punched by Manu - the man becomes a very loyal and devoted ally.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Monsieur Berneaux can do almost everything from stealing a pocket watch to creating a new type of diving suit, and what he does not know, he learns very quickly.
- Insufferable Genius: Averted; Nemo does not treat his associates as idiots because they cannot always follow his reasonings, and often takes time to explain what he is planning. If he begins to get a bit too sure of himself, you can rely on Boothby or Berneaux to chid him about it.
- Insistent Terminology: It's Monsieur Berneaux, if you please.
- Ironic Echo: after learning that the escaped convicts have sailed into a storm, an officer on Laukona remarks that they will be at the bottom of the sea before the end of the day. Cut to Nemo and his team, some days later, who are indeed at the bottom of the sea, but wearing diving suits and having the time of their life, thank you very much.
- Jerkass: Gallagher is extremely rude to the other guys, ridicules the technology they're trying to build every chance he gets and bullies his team mate Ruddle into submission, so no one really mourns him after Berneaux executes him.
- Boothby is a real bastard when we first meet him, ruling his dorm and his fellow inmates by violence and blackmail. He gets better, however.
- Join or Die: The three sailors guarding the Koru when Nemo and his men steal it are given this choice. They all join.
- Karmic Death: When Ruddle, a former crewman of the Koru, tries to leave the Nautilus when the submarine is under attack, planning to betray his colleagues, he is swept underwater and then hacked to pieces by the propeller.
- Leave No Witnesses: No matter how much they dislike it, the crew and officers of the Nautilus agree that any man who survives their attacks will be left to his fate, or killed if he manages to catch a glimpse of the submarine.
- Loveable Rogue: The crew of the Nautilus is a bunch of hardened bastards but they all have their redeeming features; for instance, Berneaux, for all his swindlings, proves to be a rather caring man, and his team mate Piette is the first to suggest they start an anti-war mission.
- Meaningful Name: The ship carrying the prisoners from Europe to Laukona is named Moira, ie Fate in Greek. Her owners are well aware of the irony.
- No Name Given: Surprisingly averted with Nemo himself (Regan goes with Verne's version and names him Dakkar), the first mate of the Nautilus and several other members of the crew. Played straight with Chief (Lampshaded by Boothby when Chief dies ) and Cook, who never give their real name.
- No One Could Survive That: Said almost verbatim by the Security Officer of Laukona when he discovers that twenty-odd prisoners stole a ship and sailed right into a huge storm.
- Papa Wolf: Though they are not blood relations, don't threaten people under Manu's protection. Just don't.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: How the guards and administration staff feel about being sent to Laukona; it's very remote, there's nothing to do and the supply ship visits only once every two months.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: What Nemo answers to the people who want to buy his invention. It ends just as well as you can imagine...
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: In a rather benevolent way, the team decide to use the gold they have scavenged from shipwrecks to make themselves more powerful than the current leaders of the world, and put an end to war. Of course, when they are on dry land to gather intelligence, they are prompt to screw the rule of discretion and use their money to have some fun.
- Self-Destruct Mechanism: Such a device is added to the propulsion system of the Nautilus, allowing it to overload and explode in case the ship and its crew get caught.
- Shoot the Dog: The industrial conglomerate that tried to obtain the secret of vulcanium from Nemo not only had him shipped to an dreadful prison and his close family killed, they also made sure that the rest of the Dakkar kin and associates either died or "disappeared". Even the family house was burnt down to the ground.
- Shown Their Work: Pat Regan built a replica of the Nautilus and repaired the diving suits used in the 1954 movie to get them operational again. It shows in his writings. Also, this author can do maths.
- Techno Babble: Avoided; the scientific explanations are rather lengthy, but make perfect sense and the maths are also right.
- True Companions: No matter what they think of each other (or the fact that they don't really trust each other at first), the crewmen of the Nautilus are ready to do whatever it takes to protect their team mates.
- Unfortunate Names: Having "Jonas" as your first name when you are a sailor seems rather unlucky, tough, in a nice aversion of this trope, no one ever jokes at Boothby's expense because of this.
- Unobtainium: The vulcanium is a possibly radioactive element used under a plasma form, that even today has no real-life counterpart in Mendeleiev's classification.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: Sure, the crew and specially the officers of the Nautilus are the best friends in the world, but they never lose an opportunity to joke and snark at each other's expense - particularly Boothby and Chief against their captain, or Manu against Boothby.
- Weapon of Mass Destruction: Vulcanium is treated as a world-changing artifact. Depending on who you ask, the change is either a huge improvement, or the complete destruction of life as we know it.
- You Can't Go Home Again: The fate of every man aboard the Nautilus, as once lampshaded by Berneaux, since they are all escaped convicts; particularly true for Nemo since all his family and friends are either dead or missing.