The next in our series of Steampunk Holidays is the birthday of pioneer science fiction author Jules Verne, born February 8, 1828, in Nantes, France. Verne wrote such classics as From the Earth To the Moon, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, The Mysterious Island, and Around the World in Eighty Days. I read several of these in my youth, but I’d forgotten just how many there were. Altogether he wrote 54 novels of science fiction, fantasy, and adventure.
It would be even more difficult to count the number of movies and other derivative works. One of my favorites is Rick Wakeman’s musical rendition of Journey to the Center of the Earth. One thing I learned while researching this article was that Verne originally trained to be a lawyer like his father but gave up that profession for the more romantic world of literature and the theater. According to Wikipedia, he is the world’s second most translated author after William Shakespeare.
Some critics claim that Verne’s works are not really science fiction. Even Verne himself is quoted as saying, “I have invented nothing,” meaning that he didn’t mean his works to be viewed as scientific Surely this humility belies the man’s real achievements. I personally do not endorse such a strict view of sci-fi. I’d prefer to call it “speculative fiction”, but sci-fi is a shorter and more recognizable term. In the speculative sense, Verne’s books are some of the most imaginative around, especially considering the era. Some of them foresaw realities to come, the most obvious being space travel and undersea exploration. Other things he got completely wrong, as in “Center of the Earth,” since the popular Hollow Earth theory turned out to be bogus. (Edmond Halley of Halley’s Comet fame was an advocate of this whimsical idea.) In any case, I’ve decided to revisit some of Verne’s works at the first possible opportunity. (That may be a while since I’ve got a lot of books in my “to be read” queue.) Regarding Verne’s influence on the genre of science fiction, Ray Bradbury said it best: “We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne.”
Image Credits: Portrait of Jules Verne is from Wikimedia commons, taken by Félix Nadar circa 1878.
Verne’s signature rendered in Inkscape by David Torres Costales. Awesome steampunk-style covers of Twenty Thousand Leagues and Master of the World are from https://thevirtuallibrary.org