Today we celebrate the 194th birthday of Jules Verne, novelist, poet, playwright and, ultimately, seer. Often described as the “Father of Science Fiction”, Verne accurately predicted the invention of (and many details about) the submarine in 20000 Leagues Under the Sea; his history In the year 2889 predicted television news, imagining that instead of being printed, the Chronicle of the Earth is spoken to subscribers every morning, who, from interesting conversations with journalists, statesmen and scientists, learn the news of the day.
But perhaps none of Verne’s works had such a density of precise predictions about the future as his book Paris in the 20th century, a novel about a student of letters unfamiliar with “modern” France trying to find his place in the world. Verne’s portrait of 1960s Paris features, among other things: gas-powered cars taking over the streets; fax machines and an Internet communication system; weapons of mass destruction; electronic music and the recording industry that accompanies it; an educational focus on technology rather than the humanities (when the protagonist graduates in literature, everyone in the audience screams and laughs at him); a commercial theater that serves the interests of the state; the electric chair; displacement caused by climate change; and, heaven forbid, career-minded, cynical, and masculine-looking women. (Great, Jules Verne.)
Verne wrote: Paris in the 20th century in 1863, but his publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, did not appreciate his pessimism and called him a “tabloid”. Hetzel wrote,
I didn’t expect perfection – I repeat, I knew you were trying the impossible – but I was hoping for something better. . . [it is] dull and lifeless. . . I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but I believe publishing this would be a disaster for your reputation. . . You are not ready to write a book like this. Wait twenty years, then try again.
That was the end of that; the manuscript remained unpublished until Verne’s great-grandson discovered it in a safe in 1989, and the book was published in 1994 to critical acclaim. Jules Verne should have predicted that in the 20th century people would really like Jules Verne.[Science Fiction Studies, The “New” Jules Verne, OpenCulture, Technovelgy]