Tag Archives: Jules Verne

Book Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Book Name: Journey to the Center of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne
First Published: 1864

Jules Verne was a 19th century French novelist and poet and is often referred to as the “Father of Science Fiction”. He was born in 1828 in Nantes, France. He trained to be an attorney like his father before him, but Verne was more interested in becoming a writer. Once he graduated from his law studies in Paris, he embarked on a journey of writing several very unsuccessful plays. One day, he met editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel and allowed the editor to help him overcome his natural tendency to dive deep into the scientific and to focus more on the people of his stories. The combination of the two men was like dynamite and many classic science fiction and adventure stories were born from the result. Titles such as The Mysterious Island, Five Weeks in a Ballon, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon were a direct result of their collaboration. Verne penned more than 70 novels in his lifetime and is the second most-translated author in the world, succeeded only by Agatha Christie.

“I seriously believed that my last hour was approaching, and yet, so strange is imagination, all I thought of was some childish hypothesis or other. In such circumstances, you do not choose your own thoughts. They overcome you.” – Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth starts in the year 1863 in the home of Professor Lidenbrock. Bear in mind, this makes this a contemporary science fiction tale of its day and not a historical one since the book published in the following year. The good professor has purchased an original runic manuscript written an Icelandic King. It contains a coded note written in runic script. His nephew Axel assists him in translating the message into Latin, but keeps the translation away from his uncle due to the fear of what his uncle might do with the information, but after two days he breaks his silence. The ancient note written by the Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm claims to have discovered a passage to the center of the Earth via a cave in Iceland.

Being of adventurous spirit, Professor Lidenbrock wishes to repeat the journey of this ancient Icelander and leaves for Iceland forthwith. Axel joins him against his better judgment and complains the entire way, explaining his fears of descending into a volcano and trying to come up with reasonable theories why the journey should not take place. His uncle refuses to listen and the pair travel to Reykjavik, Iceland. There they hire a guide, one Hans Bjelke, and the three continue overland to the base of the great volcano.

There are three craters in the volcano. According to Saknussemm’s note, the passage to the center of the Earth is through the crater that feels the shadow of a nearby mountain peak at noon in the last days of June. Axel rejoices when the weather remains cloudy and no shadow can be detected. If the bad weather continues, their party can turn around and return home. However, on the second to last day the sun comes out and the shadow falls into the correct crater. Lidenbrock leads the way with Hans and Axel in tow, into the depths of the Earth.

The three adventurers have a series of mis-adventures, usually it is Axel who suffers the most. When they take a wrong turn and run out of water, Axel almost dies. He also wanders off and gets lost from the trio, only to be found due to an acoustic phenomenon that allows him to speak with his uncle from miles away. As the trio continue to descend, they discover a vast cavern with electrically charged gas at the ceiling and filled by a subterranean ocean. It is surrounded by a rocky coastline of petrified trees and giant mushrooms. The professor names the ocean after himself, as any Victorian explorer commonly did during these times. The men build a raft from the petrified trees and set out over “Lidenbrock Sea”. The water has ancient Ichtyosaurus and Plesiosurus and part of the coastline is full of living prehistoric animals and insects.

A lightning storm threatens their passage on the sea and shipwrecks the trio back onto the coast. There, Axel discovers an over-sized human skull. Later, Professor Lidenbrock claims to have seen a 12 foot tall human watching a herd of Mastodons. Axel and Lidenbrock have a lively argument about the human, not knowing if this was a true man or an man-like ape. The three decide it is better to stay away for their own safety and continue to follow the trail left by Saknussemm.

The trail ends at a rock-slide. Unable to dig through the granite, they use gun cotton to blast the passage in the hope that they can find their way to the center of the Earth. When the blast occurs, little do the adventurers realize that a vast bottomless pit is all that is behind the rockslide. The sea rushes in to fill the new gap and the trio is swept away at breakneck speed inside the volcanic chimney of water and magma. You’ll have to finish the book to find out the fate of our trio of intrepid explorers.

Journey to the Center of the Earth Book CoverThis classic Jules Verne novel sometimes gets a bad rap. Some find it tedious or long-winded due to Verne’s hard science approach and the fact that the science is based on centuries old ideas that are extremely out of date and no longer considered true. The Victorian ideas come across as sexist and imperialistic to modern sensibilities. Yet, this science fiction novel was ahead of its time and in many ways is as impressive today as it was when it was written. Verne has a timeless style to his writing that gains him fans even today.

Some care needs to be taken when finding a copy of the book to read. Remember, this book was originally written in French. All the English versions are translations and unfortunately some are better than others. In the 1960s certain translators took liberties with the story, changing it in subtle ways. The story is basically the same, but many details have been changed. You can if you got one of the lesser translations by the names of the characters. Axel becomes Harry. Professor Lindenbrock becomes Professor Von Hardwigg. Curiously, Hans remains Hans in all editions! However, do not fear, either as Axel or Harry, he still is in need of smelling salts to aid his fainting and hysteria.

Steampunk: Learning the Genre

Nathan Fillion in Steampunk GarbA popular subgenre of science fiction and fantasy is known as steampunk. It features steam-powered technology with the decorative sensibilities of the 19th century Victorian era. Steampunk stories can also be considered a sort of alternate history where the British Empire continued on to be a major power in the world and their empirical style of culture and manners still hold sway in a future world.

It is often thought that the origin of steampunk as a genre began with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The stories of the adventurer explorer or the gentleman inventor who travels through the world or in time via their abilities and education and bring British culture to other peoples is a trope that is common in many steampunk stories. While Wells and Verne were certainly part of the inspiration of steampunk as a genre, they were writing alternate history or true science fiction of their times. In other words, looking to how the future may be based on the technology of their own times, much as science fiction writers do today.

The origins of steampunk was actually back in the late 1980s with a trio of authors in Southern California. Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter were a group of friends that met to talk about their writing. They developed a style of science fiction that was influenced by victorian fantasies of the past and taking it to the next level. The name for what they were doing came about when Jeter wrote a letter to Locus Magazine in 1987.

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

—K.W. Jeter

If you look at the “gonzo-historical” books of these three authors, such as Power’s Anbuis Gates, Jeter’s Morlock Night, or Blaycock’s Homunculus, you will see that while all the novels are flavored with the Victorian era’s culture there is no fixed time period or even technology. Steampunk is not about the aristocracy, although they are often present and it is not always about steam powered gadgets either. Sometimes the Victorian idea of the supernatural takes precedence. If you tire of Steampunk stories that feature nothing but airships, goggle wearing heroines or characters that go around with steampowered batman belts, fear not. Look at the origins of the genre and you will discover that these conventions did not appear until much later.

Today, the term steampunk can refer to any of the clothing fashions, jewelry, and art objects that have a particular Victorian flair. Steampunk design emphasis’s a balance between the form and function, somewhat like the arts and crafts movement did, there is a blur between the line of tool and decoration. Examples include computers keyboards and electric guitars that are redesigned to employ materials such as polished brass, wood, iron and leather with Victorian conventions, rejecting the norm of current day industrial designs. Many of the costumes feature corsets and goggles, the color brown, or antiqued British military uniforms.

The best way to learn more about the genre is to read books by the three original authors and then expand out to newer authors of the genre. It will gain you a better balance about the genre and help you avoid falling into the cliches that have developed over the past ten years since the genre has gone more mainstream. Below are some of the places that I frequent to keep up to date with the steampunk movement.

The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles
This is an active forum where all aspects of steampunk are discussed. Clothing, art, music, writing and events. If you are looking for examples in costuming or simply want to know where the local steampunk groups hang out, this is a good place to start.

The Steampunk Empire
This online community is one of my favorites. The forums, photos and places to connect with fellow steampunk enthusiasts are many. I learn about new conventions from this site all the time.

The Gatehouse: Online Dieselpunk and Steampunk Magazine
I’m new to this magazine, but I like what I see. It covers more of the literary side of steampunk and goes into what steampunk and dieselpunk are. I find it a good resource for writers wishing to enter into the genre and for readers who want to learn more about the origins of what they are reading.

Book Review: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea

Book Name: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Author: Jules Verne
First Published: 1870

Jules Verne was born the son of an French attorney in Nantes, France. As a boy, Verne developed a great love for travel and exploration, which was reflected in his science fiction writings. His interest in storytelling often cost him progress in other school subjects. It is rumored that the child Verne was so enthralled with adventure that he stowed away on a vessel going to the West Indies, but his voyage of discovery was cut short when he found his father waiting for him at the next port of call.

As Verne grew to adulthood, he began to write libretti for operettas even as he was studying in law school. When his father discovered that he was not attending to his law studies, his educational funds were cut off. Jules Verne turned to being a stockbroker to make his living, a profession that he hated. Around this time, he met and married Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. Honorine encouraged her husband to do what he loved, to write.

Verne’s writing career improved when he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an important French publisher, after being rejected by many other publishers. Verne and Hetzel formed a successful writer-publisher team until Hetzel’s death. Verne was prone to be overly scientific and melancholy in his writing, Hetzel forced the author to be more upbeat and to add in more adventure and less science. The combination proved to be gold. Verne began publishing his novels two years after the birth of his son and generally published two books a year after that point. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of his more famous works and one of the earlier novels that he published.

The novel begins in 1866 when a mysterious sea monster is sighted by ships of several countries. In New York City, an expedition to track down and kill the menace is formed by the US government. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a renoun french marine biologist, is invited to join the expedition at the last minute. Aronnax, his assistant Conseil and harpoon master Ned Land set sail from Brooklyn aboard the naval ship Abraham Lincoln and travel around Cape Horn and entering the Pacific Ocean.

The monster is discovered and the ship enters into battle. During the fight, the three men are thrown overboard and find themselves stranded on the “hide” of the monster. Much to their surprise, they find that the animal is a metal ship. The men are captured and brought on board the strange vessel where they meet its creator and commander, Captain Nemo. The vessel is an electrically powered submarine known as the Nautilus which roams the oceans to carry out marine biology research and to serve as an instrument of revenge for her captain. Nemo and Aronnax form a friendship as Aronnax is enthralled by the undersea views, despite the fact that Nemo has forbidden the three passengers to leave the vessel. Only Ned Land continues to plan their escape.

The title of 20,000 leagues under the sea does not refer to the depth that the electrical submarine dives, but rather the distance that the vessel travels in the ocean during the story. The passengers of the Nautilus see the coral reefs of the Red Sea, the shipwrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves and the fictional sunken nation of Atlantis. The crew does battle with sharks and other marine life and the ship itself is attacked by a giant octopus.

In the end, Nemo’s vessel is attacked by a ship from Nemo’s home nation. The battle pushes Nemo into an emotional depression and in his grief, he allows the Nautilus to enter a whirlpool off the coast of Norway. During this distraction, Aronnax, Conseil and Land manage to escape the submarine and return to land. However, the fate of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus remains a mystery.

I can’t remember a time when I did not know of and love the stories of Jules Verne. So many of his stories have been adapted into movies, his characters have been adopted into other novels, and there was once a ride in Disneyland based on the book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the first of his novels that I read, prompted by seeing the Disney movie by the same name starring Kirk Douglas (who sings!) produced in 1954. This movie is likely the most famous of numerous films based upon this book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered one of his “Voyages Extraordinaires” novels which also include Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island, and From the Earth to the Moon. Many of the inventions that Verne wrote about are now real technology that we see everyday. Verne paid attention to the state of the art scientific information of his time and embellished upon it with his vivid imagination to create his fantastic worlds of the future. If you have not read Jules Verne, I urge you to look into his novels. You’ll see long ago dreams that now have become the shape of life as we know it.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered in the public domain and is available for free download at Project Gutenberg or at your local public library.