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A Fantasy of Dr.Ox (Hesperus Classics) Paperback – 26 Sep 2003
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'Verne's science fiction is only now ripe for reading.' --Gilbert Adair
'The novella can be read rapidly; its comic delights are best savoured slowly.' --Times Literary Supplement
'...a glorious little parody of nineteenth-century ideas about modernity and national physiology.' --Time Out
From the Publisher
New translation of the most ingenious story by the author of 20,000 Leagues under the SeaSee all Product description
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
A new municipal lighting system is installed and everyone and everything changes. Animals become aggressive. Strawberries grow so big it takes two people to eat one. The previously placid population becomes a bickering brood that triggers a duel involving 127 shots though, of course, without injury to either combatant.
The community finally degrades into something like a city state on the rim of war, although the "leaders" remain unable to make a final decision. With all the mood swings, lack of substance, will and decision, the town resembles a cross between Homer Simpson's Springfield and John Boehner's Washington.
This small book is not your typical Jules Verne. I give it five stars anyway, not because it's even close to one of his best, but because I never guessed he had this kind of happy satire in him.
Then the mysterious Dr. Ox, not an evil scientist so much as amoral manipulator, comes to town. Through his unseen machinations, the townsfolk seemingly wake up. Someone disagrees with someone else, their dances move faster, tempos of their music accelerate. Then tempers rise, arguments break out, and even agreement becomes a furious, almost violent kind of rage. Trivial, near-forgotten matters stir mob rule and incite mass violence. Verne's pleasant farce ends happily, with the villagers returned to their previous torpor. It's a short read and easy to enjoy.
But, in afterthought, it seems to foreshadow our own time. Politics have become so polarized that shutting down the nation's economy is an acceptable tactic, echo chambers on the right and left demonize each other, trivial or even fictitious matters become battle cries, online strangers threaten death, rape, and violence for even the slightest reason - as if reason really matters. For Verne's sleepy village, it was the gas piped in by Dr. Ox that drove their behavior. For us, it's the pervasiveness and anonymity of instant access to almost anyone in the world. In either case, the activating influence seems to bring out only the worst in people.
The victims of Verne's social experiment eventually recover. In our world, the weirdness has only grown and even contaminated our highest levels of politics. Really, I liked the phenomenon better as fiction.