(US edition: Carroll & Graf, $12.95, 498 pages, trade paperback; published in March 2005. UK: Constable & Robinson, )
2005 marks the centenary of Jules Verne's death. Verne is best remembered for his scientifically detailed "voyages extraordinaires" -- such as Voyage au centre de la Terre and Vingt mille lieues sous les mers -- which contributed to the birth and development of science fiction, in particular hard science fiction, a subgenre characterized by its heavy use of scientific exposition.
To mark the occasion, coeditors Mike Ashley and Eric Brown have assembled The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures, collecting 23 stories by current writers who revisit Verne's settings and characters.
These stories are light-hearted, often mischievous. Several of them struggle with the racism and sexism endemic to the source material, some with mordants results.
Some contributors play further metafictional games by throwing other writers into the mix. George Orwell makes a spectacular appearance in Eric Brown's "Six Weeks in a Balloon", a taut alternate history thriller. H.G. Wells -- Verne's literary rival (who championed an altogether different kind of science fiction, in which metaphor matters more than science) -- makes several appearances, most notably in Stephen Baxter's "Columbiad", an evocative tale that cleverly bridges the gap between the lunar exploration novels of both authors.
Other gems include Keith Brooke's merciless social satire, "Doctor Bull's Intervention", and Paul Di Filippo's "The Mysterious Iowans", a utopian speculation that hilariously mimics Verne's expository prose style.
My favourite selection is Molly Brown's "The Selene Gardening Society", which recounts -- with acid wit and unusual imagination -- the later lives of Verne's space travellers from De la Terre à la Lune.
Interspersed between the stories, which are ordered to mirror the chronology of Verne's output, is an authoritative commentary that follows the course of Verne's life and career. Together the stories and the commentary comprise a creative and informative tribute to Verne's legacy.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 9 April 2005, 29 October 2005