Re-reading Verne

Dianne isn’t re-reading Jules Verne this week. But Anah is! She says:

When I was a child, I read Jules Verne novels that had belonged to my father. They weren’t the first science fiction that I’d read, but they certainly stood out in my mind. I remember that I picked up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea simply to find out why anyone thought they could go straight down that far without falling out the other side of the earth before travelling even half that distance*. I read Journey to the Centre of the Earth to see if Otto Lidenbrock would drown in a sea of lava**. I was appeased by Phileas Fogg making it around the world in eighty (seventy-nine, if he’d been paying attention) days. I had a rather literary mind as a child.

None of that diminished my actual enjoyment of the stories themselves. When I bought my Kindle recently, the works of Jules Verne were the first books on there after Jane Eyre. As pure entertainment, even in their English translation (my French is atrocious), Verne’s books are still strong. The sense of wonder that makes science fiction so engaging is still intact, as are the dangers and trials and triumph of the human spirit. The style is a little odd, and one has to wade through or scroll past all manner of taxonomy and mathematics and exposition, but I find it charming.

From the Earth to the Moon Jules Verne.jpgVerne was a man of vision. He even wrote a book about cities of glass skyscrapers and automobiles and a communications system that connected the entire globe. He also wrote about the trials of finding happiness, even in such a future paradise. That book was written in 1863, though Paris in the 20th Century wasn’t published until 1994, as Verne’s publisher felt it would be too depressing to publish in his lifetime.

What Verne’s books tell me about science fiction is that it does not necessarily have to be scientifically correct in the time that it is read for it to be enjoyed. I still love E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman books in the same vein. There are indispensable aspects of science fiction that have nothing to do with accuracy and everything to do with the sense of wonder some of us inevitably feel when faced with new possibilities and challenging truths. Those aspects are timeless, no matter how far progress out runs the future imagined in the classics of science fiction.

*You can’t, but you can travel that far through the various oceans while staying under the surface.

**Spoiler: He did not.

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3 comments

  1. Good one, Anah. I’ve read all the best-known Verne novels–re-read Journey to the Centre of the Earth recently and loved it–but I’m curious about his other works, too. I’ll def have to check out Paris in the 20th Century!

    My fave Verne novel is The Mysterious Island. Hardly any SF but it’s an exquisite survival adventure. The balloon escape inspired my first published book.

    1. I LOVED The Mysterious Island. I have always had a thing for survival* stories. When I was a kid (okay, and when I was a grownup, a little bit) I cried at the end part about Captain Nemo. I am such a sap, but I loved him, and I loved his whole background story. I’m in the middle of From The Earth To The Moon right now.

      I have such a love for old SF and Space Opera. My favourites as a kid were the Lucky Starr books (Isaac Asimov as Paul French) and they are the dickens to get hold of these days. Later, I discovered the Lensman books. Then, we got a TV, and I discovered Gatchaman and Macross. Oh, heavens.

      *When I was a child, I was an avid reader of as many of the Foxfire books I could get my little hands on—the ones compiled from interviews with elders in the Appalachians and similar areas.

  2. My 21st century children know well the name of Jules Verne, though mostly through the many wonderful movie adaptations of his work.

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