NESFA Members' Reviews


by Jules Verne

(translated by Richard Howard)

Random House, ISBN 0-679-44434-3, 1996, 222pp, US$21

A book review by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 1997 Evelyn C. Leeper

This is not Verne's best book. But it has a certain charm that is lacking from Verne's other works, a certain sparseness of prose that gives the appearance of an intentional style. Of course, it may be just the translator's doing, or it may be unintentional awkwardness, but for me, at least, it worked.

The story takes place in 1960. Much has been made of the predictions Verne made, many fairly accurate, others amusingly off. I suppose one could consider this a sort of alternate history of the steampunk ilk, but that is technically inaccurate. It's more like all those stories from the pulp era that wrote about the marvels of the 1960s which somehow never came to pass, and it's only the fact that it's newly published that gives one pause.

One of Verne's "predictions" is that the great writers of the past will be forgotten, and be replaced by people who write such works as "Electric Harmonies," "Meditations on Oxygen," "Poetic Parallelogram," and "Decarbonated Odes." Well, one *is* seeing more literature inspired by, or responding to, science, but Victor Hugo and Balzac are still being read. However, I haven't heard of either Musset and Lamartine, whom Verne equates with them. But it has always been true that no one in a given time can predict which authors of the time will last and which will fade. (I note that both Musset and Lamartine are in print, in reasonably priced editions, and Musset is also available at my library.) And Verne certainly didn't predict that Hugo's greatest work would become a Broadway musical (an opera, technically), and another one would become an animated children's film.

As I said, this is not a great novel, but it will be on my Hugo nomination ballot. I will admit that a part of that is that the idea of seeing Jules Verne win a Hugo (or even just be nominated for one) has a certain appeal that is hard to resist. And somehow this year I haven't read a whole lot of novels which are really that much better.

%T      Paris in the Twentieth Century
%A      Jules Verne
%C      New York
%D      1996
%I      Random House
%O      hardback, US$21 [1994]
%G      ISBN 0-679-44434-3
%P      222pp

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