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A classic of science fiction
on 11 September 2014
Review courtesy of subtleillumination.com
Around the World in 80 Days isn’t actually science fiction: the whole point was that it was a journey that was at least theoretically possible at the time. If anything, it is a study of the British Empire at the time, with memorable comments on all the colonies and areas they pass through as well as on British attitudes about each. My favourite, I think, occurs when they are about to be attacked by bandits while on the train across America, where the comment is made that ‘it may be taken for granted that, rash as the Americans usually are, when they are prudent there is a good reason for it.’
Science fiction is often portrayed as boys’ novels, targeted to those who don’t read real fiction. This, I think, is unfair. Science fiction often neglects the sort of character development found in Dickens, true. But in return it allows for a clear focus on a single aspect of society, distilled by its removal from impurities and complicating elements that pervade our own societies. As a result, it often has profound things to say about the world we live in, as well as the worlds we might aspire to see happen, whether that’s about the future of robotics and by extension lesser beings in Asimov, or the nature of globalization in Verne. They can also inspire, as 80 Days does, by evoking a passion for adventure and a desire to see new things.
The classic picture of Phineas Fogg in a balloon is, unfortunately, false: they don’t use a balloon at all in the story. Often ignored is also the fact that he finds love on the adventure: rather than being a celebration of the modern world and consumption, in the end, Fogg is left with the classic reward of all such tales: true love, and happiness ever after.
PS – Interesting fact for West Wing (and Nellie Bly) fans: Nellie Bly did the trip herself as a homage for her newspaper, meeting up with Verne in Amiens after 72 days. Michael Palin of Monty Python fame refused to use aircraft, and managed it in 79 days and 7 hours, slightly longer than Fogg.