21 november 2012

Visionaries of the future: Jules Verne

92821555Many consider Jules Verne (1828-1905)  ‘the father of science fiction’. In the 19th century, he saw innovations in technology and in his tales of adventure took those innovations to the next level. Whereas the characters in his book explore far off lands, space and even inner-earth, Verne himself can be seen as ‘an explorer of the future’.

The projectile, as pictured in an engraving from the 1872 Illustrated Edition  Source: Wikipedia

The projectile, as pictured in an engraving from the 1872 Illustrated Edition
Source: Wikipedia

In Verne’s 1865 tale ’From the Earth to the Moon’, Verne doesn’t only describe men traveling to the moon, but also gives the calculations and describes how it can be done: in a way he foresaw the 1969 Moon mission (Apollo 11). He got the size of the capsule correct, said it would take three days to get to the moon, predicted it would be the Americans and foretold the place of launch right within 50 miles: a facility in South Florida. Also he guessed the capsule to splash down in the ocean and to be recovered from sea. Verne described even the concept of weightlessness. An interesting difference is that Verne imagined a enormous canon to launch the capsule into orbit. This hasn’t been realised yet, but there is at least one company (Quick Launch) in San Francisco working on such a canon right now.

Naturalis: underseas powers

Verne was an amateur scientist and elaborately researched scientific breakthroughs of his time to imagine the future world. In 1867 Verne predicts another way for mankind to explore the frontiers of the earth: His book ’20.000 Leagues Under the Sea’ describes the adventures of the submersible ‘Nautalis’ and its captain Nemo. The Nautalis was powered by electricity and in the book Verne hints at the possibility of nuclear power. Also, he describes the use of of submarines for warfare and scientific research. The electrical bullets that are used in the book remind us strongly of Taser-guns. To imagine all this in his time is truly remarkable. The US navy named its first nuclear submarine the Nautalis.

Captain Nemo surprises us again in the novel ‘The Mysterious Island’ where he created his personal utopia. Nemo has found a way to gain clean and efficient energy: hydrogen power. Hydrogen power is nowadays used for example to fuel cars.

Albatross air travel

In his 1986 novel ‘Robert the Conqueror’ Verne explores aviation. He introduces the concept of a motor powered,  propeller driven aircraft called ‘The albatross’. This aircraft serves as a stronghold for Robert the conqueror. Aeroscraft is a company that works on aircarfts that like the albatross, have the ability to travel in the air for weeks at a time.

Although most of his novels are optimistic and adventurous, Verne also saw a darker side of technology. In his novel ‘The Begum’s Future’, two scientists plan two utopian communities in the US. They come to be at war and Verne’s description of racial hatred, nationalism, weapons of mass-destruction, poison gas and air-borne missals are eerily similar to the WW1 German war machine.

Materialistic, mechanized future

Later in life, Verne became more and more gloomy and one night decides to destroy all his work. Except for one novel: ‘Paris in the 21th century’. This novel was originally written in 1863, but wasn’t discovered and published until 1996. In this tale he describes France in the 1960’s. It has become a materialistic, mechanized world. The hero struggles in vain to establish a meaningful life and find love in a cold, futuristic society. Although the story is not a happy one, Verne predicted some accuracies in this tale: glass skyscrapers, gasoline fuelled cars, fax machines, and even something resembling the internet.

Jules Verne tried to makes his tales as scientific as possible and provides as both with an optimistic as a pessimistic view on how technology can change the world.

Source: Discovery Channel: Prophets of science fiction