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2.09.2011

Jules Verne is Old

Yesterday, Google celebrated Jules Verne's birthday. The "father of science fiction" (as always everything is disputable) turns 183, and if he were alive today, that would make him the oldest science fiction writer. And to be innovative--like Verne's fiction, Google made some changes to its Doodle image. This time it's interactive.

Pull the lever and the pictures moves. Which is to say, I was distracted from my work for a good twenty seconds.

Verne has given us other things beyond a flashy Google image. As National Geographic ran a slide show detailing his scientific predictions that came true.

Among them: submarines (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea), TV news (in the article "In the Year 2889, he predicts  "Instead of being printed, the Earth Chronicle is every morning spoken to subscribers, who, from interesting conversations with reporters, statesmen and scientists, learn the news of the day"), and solar sails (From the Earth to the Moon), among other things. National Geographic gives Vernes credit for 8. Yet (H.G.) Wells gets credit for 9-ish.

Yet, imagined invention rivalry aside, both writers were quite racist. H.G. Wells literature for example gives an "outline of genocide."

Vernes's fiction was imbued with regular Victorian imperialism.

From the long gone blog The Ve Magni (good post, great example of how not to run a blog):

"I believe I already mentioned that the book starts exactly the same as all of his other exploration stories (versus his survival stories, which start with a catastrophic event whisking a group of intrepid men somewhere or other). Since this is an earlier work, and I’ve already read many of Verne’s later works, I think the unabashed racism comes as a bit of a shock compared to the more tolerant, albeit ignorant, tones of the later stories.
 Some quotes:
Nonchalance towards slavery, listing slaves among other “luxuriant items” traded by Arabs in Africa: “They trade in gums, ivory, fine muslin and slaves. Their caravans traverse these equatorial regions… in search of those articles of luxury and enjoyment which the wealthy merchants covet.” 
On the finer things in Africa: “Why is it that such savage countries get all these fine things?”"
A foreboding of the consequences of overconsumption: “The races of the future may repair hither… Just note the progress of events: .. Asia was the first nurse of the world… For about four thousand years she travailed, she grew pregnant, she produced, and then, when stones began to cover the soil… her children abandoned her exhausted and barren bosom. You next see them precipitating themselves upon young and vigorous Europe, which has nourished them for the last two thousand years. But already her fertility is beginning to die out; …Thus we are already seeing the millions rushing to the luxuriant bosom of America… In its turn, that new continent will grow old; its virgin forests will fall before the axe of industry, and its soil will become weak through having too fully produced what had been demanded of it…. Then, Africa will be there to offer to new races the treasures that for centuries have been accumulating in her breast.” 
Although this hasn’t happened, because Verne, like all the other shortsighted white men back in the day, didn’t give the African people any credit towards utilizing their own native resources, and didn’t even foresee them as having the intellectual capacity to develop technology and trade to destroy their homeland on their own, or to suffer remotely the consequences of globalized capitalism, corruption and pollution.

The question here is the same one posed for the Mark Twain issue: is it excusable for writers to be of their age? To have the same unjust attitudes of their time? Jules Verne did indeed give us the beginning of steampunk and sci-fi. And I love steampunk and I love sci-fi, and I've enjoyed Vernes (but this was around the time I enjoyed Christoper Pike)--does this make me imperialist?

(I know bad bad bad comparison, but a question worth pondering, as always).

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