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Verne's recently discovered first novel, written over 125 years ago and now smoothly translated from its French edition by the poet Richard Howard. Verne's editor rejected the manuscript in 1863 for its ""unrealistic"" view of the future, though, as it turns out, Verne's grim predictions are chillingly exact. A better reason to reject his novel would have been that Verne had not yet learned to portray believable characters. Not that he'd ever be very good at it, but his young hero here, Michel Dufr‚noy, is little more than a prop to be shuttled about various neighborhoods of Paris in 1960, as imagined from the perspective of 1860. Michel has two male friends and a girlfriend, none of them memorable. Michel's artistic, more-or-less blacklisted uncle is, however, quite so, but only because Verne uses him as a mouthpiece to explain what happened in the 19th and early 20th centuries to bring about a dystopian Paris. In any case, Verne's predictions, as always, surpass any other writer's in their precision: "". . . the study of belles lettres and of ancient languages (including French) was at this time virtually obsolete . . . some classes in literature were still taught, though these were sparsely attended."" FAX machines, computers, automobiles, and high-speed trains are all clearly described, as are a number of devices that boggle the mind in their complexity but have yet to be invented. Remarkably, Verne's 20th-century Paris rarely seems dated. This may be because Verne was uncannily correct in his major predictions, that the future would be dominated by corporations and that technology would be the dominant god. Nothing impractical or unprofitable can exist in this world, and, in the end, people are no more than fragile machines expected to serve without question the corporate deities. Hardly H.G. Wells, or even Verne at his best, but, still, quite a welcome--and startling--curiosity.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 034542039X
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Random