Jules Verne: Bleak Futurist

People nowadays look at Jules Verne as one of the forefathers of science fiction, anticipating amazing technological developments like swift, giant submarines and capsules landing on the moon. But an old New Scientist article discusses his little-known work peering into the future of society. In 1863, he wrote a novella about life in Paris one hundred years later. It was never published in his lifetime, but a manuscript discovered in an old trunk proves that his vision was eerily accurate. It’s not exactly cheerful reading:

Parisians in the 1960s live in structures with as many as 12-storeys, a far cry from Baron Haussmann’s six floor buildings of the 19th century that line the city’s streets today.

Life as imagined by Verne is nothing more than a gigantic marketplace where people no longer fight over ideas but only for riches. Verne seems to mourn the absence of bravery in soldiers who no longer go into hand-to-hand combat but fight on distant technological battlefields. Michel works briefly at rewriting classic plays to suit contemporary, pablum-fed audiences. Here Verne seems to have predicted the TV sitcom complete with fake clapping on the soundtrack.

He also takes a dim view of the battle of the sexes:

Michel’s only pleasure comes from his tiny circle of fellow artist friends and a young woman who catches his fancy. In Paris in the 20th Century Verne rants against women’s liberation, or what he calls the evolution of Parisiennes into American women. He says they speak seriously about serious affairs, dress poorly and have no taste. There are no more women in France under the age of 95, a helpful friend of Michel’s explains. Verne predicts women in the workforce, a declining birthrate, and horrors of horrors, more and more illegitimate children.

You can read more about Paris in the 20th Century over on Wikipedia and in a Science Fiction Studies review, or buy a copy on Amazon.