Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Paris in the 20th Century by Jules Verne: Reviewed

Listening to: Dressed in Black, by Depeche Mode, from Black Celebration

Background and other reviews here for you if you feel the following review you are about to read is ignorant or blasphemous to the history of sci-fi. I formulated this opinion on my own prior to seeing any other reviews - apart from the glowing ones on the book cover of course - and I feel validated that I'm not the only one to think this way.

In a nutshell: this sci-fi novel was published posthumously and his editor rejected it originally.

There's a reason why his editor originally rejected this forgotten manuscript and I hardly think it was because of the sci-fi technology being beyond its time, especially given that Verne is known for his sci-fi. I think that's just spin from the publishers. I don't think it was the dystopia either although that was highly unusual for the period. The reason is because this is bloody BORING!

Yes there are some startlingly accurate predictions as to technology's progress a hundred years into the future. Verne knows his stuff and is insightful.

An extreme form of feminism is predicted with women being so like men there is no point in them being women any more. It's certainly a dystopian outlook in keeping with the rest of the novel. However the idea of women being replaced with air compressors (WTF?) in human reproduction is VERY far off the mark. I'm guessing biology isn't one of Verne's scientific strengths but rather physics, chemistry and engineering.

There are dull descriptions about some of the organisations and what they do or rather don't do and how they control society in general, the history behind their formation.

There are ridiculously detailed, measured descriptions of things that aren't that pertinent to the story but have been included anyway eg exactly how many centimetres deep a particular body of water froze because the winter was so cold etc etc. I don't care, why are you telling me this?!

One chapter is a flimsy history of French writers in some rather pointless 'dialogue'. If I wanted to read about the history of pre-Victorian French authors I would borrow a book on the subject. The characters' dialogue in general is unbelievably flamboyant. This may or may not be due to the translator's hand.

The protagonist from quite early on is obviously a loser, not a survivor. I had hoped with the friends he made and his desire to pursue art over industry that he would start some sort of small revolution but he was too foolish for anything so clever. His pathetic attempts to move up in the world were so ignorant, they were obviously going to fail so they elicited no sympathy from me. I always feel cheated when the protagonist of a story is not just an anti-hero but a fool who should have seen it coming and could have stopped it if he had a backbone.

At first I felt some empathy with the idea that he and other artists are not appreciated. They want to create and have no choice but to work for money while their soul longs for something better. I could believe that 100 years into the future, Art is squashed out of existence by commerce. I can see how that could happen.

On the whole this felt unedited. You could probably fill only 3 or 4 chapters with the actual story. So much of the rest is superfluous.

Other reviewers have said there is little plot and this should be read and recommended as a historical piece, a remarkable prediction of the future. Perhaps that would have aided my appreciation, and allowed me to recommend this book which I do not: at least as a novel.

In spite of all this I do intend to read at least one of his better known works since at least they were edited. Jules Verne is famous for a reason after all and other reviewers agree; his other works are a far better read!

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