Five Weeks in a Balloon Paperback – 3 Nov 2006
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|Paperback, 3 Nov 2006||
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About the Author
Jules Verne (8 February, 1828 – 24 March, 1905) was a French novelist, poet, and playwright best known for his adventure novels and his profound influence on the literary genre of science fiction. Though he was raised Catholic, Verne became a deist in his later years, from about 1870 onward. On 9 March 1886, as Verne was coming home, his twenty-five-year-old nephew, Gaston, shot at him twice with a pistol. The first bullet missed, but the second one entered Verne's left leg, giving him a permanent limp that could not be overcome. This incident was hushed up in the media, but Gaston spent the rest of his life in a mental asylum. After the death of both his mother and his publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, he began publishing darker works. In 1888, he entered politics and was elected town councilor of Amiens, where he championed several improvements and served for fifteen years. In 1905, while ill with diabetes, Verne died at his home. His son, Michel Verne, oversaw publication of the novels Invasion of the Sea and The Lighthouse at the End of the World after Jules's death. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
`Five Weeks In A Balloon' (1863) was the debut novel of Jules Verne, who would later go on to pen a number of undisputed `classics'. On completion, perhaps the greatest surprise is that `Five Weeks In A Balloon' is not ranked among `the greats' and is not published as commonly as, say, '20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'. Indeed, as an adventure novel from the age of empires, this is hard to top. No wonder Verne's publishers jumped at the chance of signing him on a long-term contract. This is definitely a case of hitting the ground running, or should that be hitting the air flying?
The novel's plot is ostensibly as thin as a balloon skin. Daring explorer, Dr Samuel Fergusson, along with his buddy, sceptical big game hunter, Dick Kennedy, and irrepressible manservant, Joe, set out to traverse Africa from East to West, floating in a hydrogen balloon. What follows is a series of episodic adventures, many of which are as thrilling to read today as they no doubt were a century and a half ago.
Where `Five Weeks In A Balloon' really succeeds is in its ability to make the reader believe that he is part of the crew. So clever and vivid are the descriptions of Africa from the air, that the whole journey really comes to life in the mind's eye. This backbone of credibility makes the subsequent action set pieces all the more enjoyable and engaging. Let's face it, a balloon floating over Africa is a ripe topic for mishaps and mayhem. Verne delivers both by the bucket-full. From early incidents of terrified tribesmen firing arrows and bullets at the airborne `monster', it is clear that this will be no smooth ride. The intrepid travellers have to contend with a perilous cocktail of extreme weather, animal attacks and human sabotage. It's all fantastic stuff! I am deliberately holding back describing the big action scenes, but suffice to say, they are memorably creative and have a cinematic quality in their scale and pace.
Other elements of `Five Weeks In A Balloon' work less well. Inevitably, some of the attitudes expressed by the leads towards their fellow men and creatures jar in this more compassionate age. In addition, Verne's characterisation is typically clunky, and none of the three heroes is particularly three-dimensional. However, it is the author's insistence upon placing the adventure in `the real world', by referring in detail to genuine African explorers and journeys of the recent era that do most to mar the story's flow. No doubt the information is accurate and (arguably) relevant, but at times the narrative seems to morph into a lecture. It's almost like peppering an Indiana Jones movie with excepts from an archaeology documentary.
Nevertheless, when it works, `Five Weeks In A Balloon' works splendidly. For those who have only dabbled with the most famous Jules Verne novels, `Five Weeks In A Balloon' is well worth investigating. Read it, and let your imagination soar.
Barty's Score: 8.5 / 10
Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that most of them were out of print or difficult to come by. Imagine my excitement when I got a kindle and realised they were nearly all out of copyright and available to download for free! (OK, enough imagining already, I hear you cry).
Five Weeks in a Balloon was one of Verne's earliest works and follows the adventures of two Englishmen and a Scotsman as they attempt to cross Africa from east to west at her widest point in a hot air balloon.
There are lots of technical details about the balloon, its manufacture and the apparatus used to keep the balloon up. There are a lot of adventures including rescuing a missionary from some cannibals, the balloon being attacked by birds and being chased across the desert on horseback by some Arabs.
There are also a lot of derogatory references to the native people of Africa who are considered by the occupants of the balloon to be complete and utter savages (and of course, all cannibalistic too). At one point they mistake some baboons for natives but upon realising their mistake decide there's not really much difference between the two anyway. The publishers' note at the beginning of my edition says that the book is a satire on modern (i.e. 1860s) books of African travel; so it's possible that Verne was being so very white supremacist in order to satirize other authors of the time but the attitudes of the book do seem to fit with general 19th century Western Europe attitudes towards African people (including a steadfast refusal to believe that Africans could never have built Great Zimbabwe).
Although I enjoyed this book, I wouldn't recommend it as a starting point if you haven't read Jules Verne's books before as I think it's quite a lot weaker than his more famous works. Around The World in Eighty Days (Penguin Popular Classics) is a better starting place and also includes hot-air balloons.
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