February 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Jules Verne!


On this day 185 years ago Jules Verne was born in Nantes, France. One of the most imaginative writers of the nineteenth century, he wrote about air, space, and underwater travel long before such things were possible, leading many today to call him “The Father of Science Fiction.” Among his books are A Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In Eighty Days, and From the Earth to the Moon.

According to UNESCO’s Index Translationum, Verne is the second most translated writer in the world (Shakespeare is the third). Melville House has done its part with the publication of Charlotte Mandel’s translation of The Castle in Transylvania.

On Salon, Paul Di Filippo has written of the “extraordinary resurgence” of Verne in recent years and of his work’s status as a precursor to cyber- and steampunk. Di Filippo notes that “Aside from inexcusably moronic infelicities, Verne’s works in English [have been] plagued with unauthorized cuts and interpolations that had the cumulative effect of simplifying the textual complexities and controversies.”

Not so of Melville House’s “compulsively readable”— and unexpurgated — edition. Di Filippo writes, “let us pay homage to the fine new translation by the experienced and talented Charlotte Mandell …. the quality of the prose and fidelity to the original text persists throughout the novel and sets high standards for the reader’s enjoyment.”

Of our own Jean-Christophe Valtat’s first novel, Aurorarama, Jacob Silverman wrote in the National, “[it] is perhaps what Jules Verne would write if woken from the dead and offered a dose of mushrooms.” (Be on the look out, too, for its forthcoming sequel, Luminous Chaos, illustrated by the Verne-besotted Mahendra Singh, — also illustrator of the Melville House edition of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark — who calls Verne “the greatest of them all, the Master of all French scribblery.”)

In May of last year, Jean-Christophe delivered the keynote address on Jules Verne at the Watch City Steampunk Festival in Waltham, Massachusetts. Afterward, he gave this interview to the podcasters at SciFi Saturday Night, on the dueling legacies of Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne, and Philip K. Dick’s criticism of the science fiction genre:

Dan O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Melville House.