The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures, Robinson, 2005
The anthology contains stories based on the works and life of Verne, by the likes of Tony Ballantyne, Stephen Baxter, Keith Brooke, Molly Brown, Peter Crowther, Paul Di Filippo, James Lovegrove, Richard A. Lupoff, Adam Roberts, Ian Watson and others.
THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF
In a writing life spanning over forty years, he produced more than sixty novels of adventure and exploration, creating a sub-genre of fiction that exploded on to the world at a time when both the advances of science and technology, and the physical exploration of the world, were proceeding at an exponential rate.
Jules Verne was born in Nantes in 1828, to a prosperous middle-class family. His father was a successful lawyer who hoped that his eldest son might follow him into the profession. But Verne dreamed of adventure. As a boy, living in the port of Nantes, he day-dreamed of sailing around the world. Family legend has it that he even stowed away aboard a ship, only to be dragged home by his irate father when the ship docked further down the French coast. In 1848 Verne did escape – though only as far as Paris, where he combined working on the stock exchange with penning much bad poetry and short comedy plays which were staged at the Théâtre Lyrique and the Théâtre Historique, without success or critical acclaim.
He sold a few short stories around this time, the first being “Les Premiers Navires de la marine mexicaine” (usually translated as “The Mutineers” or “A Drama in Mexico”) which appeared in the monthly magazine Musée des familles in July 1851.
It was not until 1863, with the publication of his first book, Five Weeks in a Balloon, that success and acclaim eventually came to Verne. This is the story of Dr Fergusson, his friend Dick Kennedy and loyal man-servant Joe Smith, and their intrepid balloon journey across the continent of Africa from Zanzibar to Senegal. Headlong adventure alternates with much (often, it must be said, too much) scientific detail – but the story caught the imagination of readers in France, Britain and America. The novel was a best-seller, its documentary narrative convincing some readers that it was a true account.
Verne was fortunate that his publisher, Jules Hetzel, was one of the most enterprising in France, and he saw the potential in Verne’s work. He gave Verne a contract for three books a year and also used Verne as the final catalyst to launch his new magazine for younger readers, the Magasin d’Education et de Récréation. The first issue appeared on 20 March 1864 featuring the opening instalment of Verne’s new novel, Les Anglais au Pôle Nord (The English at the North Pole).
With a publisher keen to bring out his books, many serialised during the year and published in volume form in time for Christmas, Jules Verne’s writing career was under way. Over the course of the next ten years he wrote the novels for which he is famous today: Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865),Round the Moon (1870), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1873), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873), and The Mysterious Island (1874). These novels sold in their tens of thousands and Verne became a wealthy man, often turning out two novels a year in a non-stop writing routine that was to last until his death in 1905.
His later books abandoned much of the scientific detail of his early novels, and he concentrated on portraying adventures set in the four corners of the globe. While these were not as popular as his scientific romances, and sales declined towards the end of his life, his work was still in sufficient demand after his death for his publisher to bring out several volumes co-authored with (and some wholly written by) his son Michel.
Verne is often cited today as one of the founding fathers of science fiction, along with H.G.Wells. The fact is that Verne rarely extrapolated from scientific advances to create visions of the future – his novels were firmly grounded in the here and now of the late Victorian period. The genre Verne created had no name – though it’s as much the forerunner of the modern techno-thriller as it was science fiction – and there were precious few other exponents: he was a craftsman who chiselled out his own niche to create stories wholly Vernian. In his better known and most highly regarded novels, he tapped into the burgeoning scientific curiosity of the age and brought a clear-minded technological understanding to stirring stories of derring-do and adventure in all four corners of the world – as well as under the sea and in space.
Looking back, it is easy to credit Verne with greater originality than in fact he possessed. His first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863), was suggested by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Balloon Hoax” (1844). Another Poe story, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1837), inspired Verne to write a direct sequel, The Sphinx of the Ice-Fields (1897). His two-part novel From the Earth to the Moon (1865) andRound the Moon (1870), were preceded by Irish author Murtagh McDermot’s Trip to the Moon (1728), whose hero’s return from the moon is assisted by 7,000 barrels of gunpowder and a cylindrical hole dug one mile deep into the moon’s surface – a foreshadowing of Verne’s means of firing his own characters moon-ward from the barrel of a giant gun. Verne’s Clipper of the Clouds (1886), and the sequel The Master of the World (1904), featuring a massive propeller-driven airship The Albatross, lifted ideas from the works of the US writer Luis Senarens (Frank Reade Jnr and his Air Ship,Frank Reade Jnr in the Clouds, etc) with whom Verne corresponded. Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), was not the first story of subterranean adventure: the German physicist Athanasius Kircher (1601-1680) was the author of Mundus Subterraneus, and in 1741 Ludvig Baron von Holberg published Nicolai Klimii iter Subterraneum, the story of mountaineer Klim and his adventures after falling down a hole in the Alps and discovering a miniature subterranean solar system. Mathias Sandorf (1885) is Verne’s take on Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1844), while his fascination with shipwrecked heroes can be traced back to Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe(1719) and J.R. Weiss’ Swiss Family Robinson (1812): Verne even referred to his own ‘castaway’ books as Robinsonades.
However, to accuse Verne of lack of originality would be to miss the point. He was original in his genius of marrying the latest technological breakthroughs with geographical adventure, written with a keen eye for scientific detail which convinced the reader that, no matter how far-fetched the adventure, the events portrayed were indeed possible. The first submarine had been built and tested by Cornelius Drebble in 1620 and a submarine, the Henley, was used in the American Civil War in 1864, so Verne was hardly predicting the vessel. But his vision of a super-powered submarine capable of travelling around the world was the inspiration that led to the first nuclear-powered submarine eventually launched in 1955 and named the USS Nautilus in deference to Verne’s creation. It was Verne’s vision in pushing the barriers of technology and exploring the world that emerged which was a major factor in encouraging the technological revolution that occurred in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Verne also created some of the most memorable characters in fiction. Once encountered who can forget Phileas Fogg, Captain Nemo, Impey Barbicane or the mysterious Robur, forerunners in some ways of the later “mad scientist”. If he were alive today Verne would have been an ideal candidate for continuing the James Bond novels!
Jules Verne’s writing life encompassed much of that second half of the nineteenth-century, a time of great upheaval, scientific enlightenment, and social change. His work, reflecting the ideas and ideals of his time, has the enduring appeal of all literature written with passion and commitment. That it is still being read over a hundred years after it was written is a testament to Verne’s ability to communicate to generation after generation of readers the wonder of adventure and exploration.
This volume, published on the centenary of Verne’s death, presents twenty-three stories in homage of the French master of adventure. Using as a starting point the works of Jules Verne, his ideas, stories and characters and the life of the man himself, the gathered writers have produced a range of entertaining, adventurous, and thought-provoking stories. Ian Watson, for instance, reveals the true adventures that inspiredJourney to the Centre of the Earth. Mike Mallory unveils the mystery of the later life of Captain Nemo, whilst Molly Brown recounts the final endeavour of the Baltimore Gun Club. There are further sequels to Verne’s best known books, as well as stories based on some of his lesser known novels and stories.
We’d like to think that the Jules Verne would have approved.
Eric Brown & Mike Ashley
A Drama on the Railway, Stephen Baxter
Jehan Thun’s Quest, Brian Stableford
Six Weeks in a Balloon, Eric Brown
Londres au XXIer Siècle, James Lovegrove
Giant Dwarfs, Ian Watson
The Room in the Back of Fedogan’s Bar, Peter Crowther
The True Story of Barbicane’s Voyage, Laurent Genefort
Columbiad, Stephen Baxter
Tableaux, F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre
The Secret of the Nautilus, Michael Mallory
Doctor Bull’s Intervention, Keith Brooke
The Very First Affair, Johan Heliot
Eighty Letters, Plus One, Kevin J. Anderson & Sarah A. Hoyt
The Adventurers’ League, Justina Robson
Hector Servadec, Jr., Adam Roberts
The Mysterious Iowans, Paul Di Filippo
Old Light, Tim Lebbon
The Selene Gardening Society, Molly Brown
A Matter of Mathematics, Tony Ballantyne
The Secret of the Sahara, Richard A. Lupoff
The Golden Quest, Sharan Newman
The True Story of Wilhelm Storitz, Michel Pagel
The Shoal, Liz Williams