Sometimes one suspects that the real test of the literary biographer's art is just such figures as Jules Verne, who turn out books the way train-conductors punch tickets, at a distance removed from hackery perhaps by only one inexplicable gene. No satisfying recent biography of Verne is available in English. Like the English-language version of the biography written by the novelist's grandson, Jean Jules-Verne (Jules Verne, 1976), Peter Costello's book belongs in the ranks of agreeable but unexciting contributions. He begins promisingly enough by undertaking to ""present Verne in relation to the science, technology, and geographical discoveries of his time"" while showing his gradual disillusionment with scientific as well as spiritual nostrums. Costello does make some attempt to discuss the formative influence of the 1848 political climate on the young would-be-writer; he does identify Verne's immediate sources of technical information and discuss the fictional ""inventions"" in relation to, say, the state of contemporary balloon- or submarine-building technology. To this extent, his work is of broader interest than the more family-centered narrative of Jules-Verne. But Costello's larger ambitions quickly get bogged down in unilluminating detail--surely the pitfall of anyone approaching this long and industrious life by way of strict chronology. No more than Jules-Verne does he capture the sense of an intellect at work. Broad questions like that of Verne's curious blindness to the real scientific frontiers of the day receive no more emphasis than matters like the stage and film adaptations of Around the World in Eighty Days. A pleasant and moderately useful book--but surely someone is going to strike pay dirt in the same territory one of these days.