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Thread: Was Jules Verne really writing science fiction?

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    Was Jules Verne really writing science fiction?

    I would argue he mostly was not. "From Earth to the Moon", its sequel, and "20,000 leagues under the sea" were definitely SF, but most of Verne's books were what we would today call technothrillers -- adventure stories with emphasis on existing, albeit cutting-edge, technology. "Five weeks in a balloon" and "Mysterious Isalnd" are good examples. "Beguma's Fortune" may qualify as SF, as it involves some impossible technology (although Verne may not have realized it was impossible). And quite a few of his books, such as "Captain Grant's Children" and "Fifteen-year old Captain" are straight adventure stories, without even technothriller aspect.

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    I broadly agree., although I would add a couple of titles that were definitely SF. Journey to the Centre of the Earth was a purely speculative tale of exploration, and so it counts. The less-well-known Carpathian Castle was a ghost story on the surface, but the supernatural events were rationalised by technology, not all of it available at the time of writing IIRC.

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    I too would agree.
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    People call Ray Bradbury a sci-fi author, which he is. But he has done many works that aren't sci-fi either. I don't know anyone who says that either are only sci-fi writers. Only that both do (or, did) write it.

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    It's funny how that works- Clive Barker is and will always be a horror writer, but by now he's probably written more books in the fantasy genre.

    As for Verne, Paris in the 20th Century is certainly sci-fi, and a cursory examination of his work suggests that about a quarter to a third of his books were science fiction, with the rest being "hard speculation" in some form, usually, geographic.

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    It's my understanding that Verne didn't like Wells because the latter just did a lot of handwaving to get on with the story.

    Of course, a huge chunk of Wells' work has nothing to do with science fiction, either.

    I have enjoyed reading both, but I have found that I will re-read Wells and not Verne.

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    I'm the opposite Mike; I can barely get through a Wells novel, but Verne is one of my favorite authors.

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    Quote Originally Posted by parallaxicality View Post
    It's funny how that works- Clive Barker is and will always be a horror writer, but by now he's probably written more books in the fantasy genre.
    Arguably, none of the three best Stephen King movie adaptations are horror. (And I mean they're arguably the best, not that they're arguably not horror.) He says, in the afterword to Different Seasons, that it was explained to him on his second, maybe third, novel that he needed to stop publishing horror books right then and there unless he wanted to be pegged for the rest of his career. Needless to say, he didn't heed the advice, though even if you're going to cite Misery over Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, or Stand by Me, I'd argue that it's more of a psychological thriller than true horror.

    I mean, for heaven's sake, people think of Isaac Asimov as a sci-fi author, and he wrote about everything.
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    Quote Originally Posted by mike alexander View Post
    It's my understanding that Verne didn't like Wells because the latter just did a lot of handwaving to get on with the story.
    I'm guessing you are referring to Verne's famous complaint that Wells used the fictional substance Cavourite to get his heroes to the moon, whereas he, Verne, used real materials (gun cotton) but neglected to mention that it would have killed the travellers. In fact, one could argue that Ilya's contention could be taken further - the two Moon novels were not SF but technothrillers, because the technology was available at the time!

    I seem to recall hearing recently that the whole "where do you get Cavourite from?" thing was friendly banter on Verne's part, and not real criticism, but I may well be wrong.

    Quote Originally Posted by mike alexander
    Of course, a huge chunk of Wells' work has nothing to do with science fiction, either.
    I think almost all well-known SF authors write, wrote or have written extensively outside the genre. Asimov certainly did, although he always declared himself an SF writer. Clarke is a possible exception - his only non-SF fiction I can think of was Glide Path, a semi-autobiographical novel about the development of radar.

    Quote Originally Posted by mike alexander
    I have enjoyed reading both, but I have found that I will re-read Wells and not Verne.
    I'm more likely to re-read Wells too, and I have read The Time Machine more times than is probably healthy. But I do have a soft spot for Journey to the Centre of the Earth as well - one of the more re-readable Vernes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    Clarke is a possible exception - his only non-SF fiction I can think of was Glide Path, a semi-autobiographical novel about the development of radar.
    I wouldn't call his "Profiles of the Future" SF, but his speculations on future science and technology, and on the development of such things
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    Quote Originally Posted by Swift View Post
    I wouldn't call his "Profiles of the Future" SF, but his speculations on future science and technology, and on the development of such things
    I wouldn't really call that fiction. Ditto Report on Planet Three, although the title piece was done as a story.

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    I will add that Journey to the Center of the Earth is the only book of Verne's I have ever reread. But, aside from Ruhmkorff lamps there really wasn't any techno-stuff. It was more like a 19th century Rendezvous with Rama, a tour of wonders.

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    For many people in English speaking countries, whether or not one enjoys Jules Verne can depend on the goodocity of the translation and if the translator butcherates the English language.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ronald Brak View Post
    goodocity butcherates
    Ooh! Ronald, can I have those words?

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    This is English, so no need to ask for permission. As James Nicoll pointed out, "English doesn't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    I'm guessing you are referring to Verne's famous complaint that Wells used the fictional substance Cavourite to get his heroes to the moon, whereas he, Verne, used real materials (gun cotton) but neglected to mention that it would have killed the travellers.
    Six of one, half dozen of the other, in my mind. Cavorite isn't real, but will (apparently) get you to the moon. Gun cotton is real, but it will not get you anywhere, let alone the moon. Not intact, anyway. It all depends on where you're willing to suspend your disbelief.
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    I find Wells and Verne to a be a dead-heat in enjoyability--though as mentioned already, I can't comment on how Verne reads in the original French.

    Re SF or not:
    Heading back to their literary era, I'd say their work is "proto-SF", a kind of rough template for later developments in the genre.

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    Let's not forget Off On A Comet in which a comet grazes the earth and carries off several people on a tour of the solar system.

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    In general, though, I think we humans have a tendency to like to pinhole things into categories, but reality isn't always so neat.
    As above, so below

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    Is it specifically required that science fiction deal with the future or impossible technology? Wouldn't any story that relies heavily on the science of the day be science fiction? For Ilya, how is a "technothriller" not science fiction? Or are you advocating a genre called "technology fiction?"

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    Quote Originally Posted by CJSF View Post
    Is it specifically required that science fiction deal with the future or impossible technology? Wouldn't any story that relies heavily on the science of the day be science fiction? For Ilya, how is a "technothriller" not science fiction? Or are you advocating a genre called "technology fiction?"

    CJSF
    Some people argue that SF is undefinable, or can only be defined in terms of, "SF is what I am pointing at when I say 'that's SF'."

    But I strongly disagree, and believe people say this only because they think it makes SF seem more mystical than it really is. (Heck, it doesn't need any bogus mysticism!)

    SF is that branch of fiction that deals with the fantastic in a rational manner. By "fantastic" I mean anything which isn't known to be possible (which of course includes anything that is thought to be impossible). By "rational" I mean it attempts to deal with it in scientific terms. So, a story that features immortal vampires would be a fantasy. A story that features people whose biology allows them to thrive on blood but which makes them highly sensitive to ultraviolet would probably count as SF. (Of course, it is often better that a story just admit it's a fantasy and get on with telling the story rather than try to "justify" the premise.) SF is also likely to consider the consequences of its premise in a rational manner - typically the socialogical aspects.

    In Verne's day, travelling to the moon was an impossible feat; now, of course, it's not. A novel about a return to the moon would not count as SF unless it featured a radical new form of propulsion, or it featured aliens on the moon, or something like that.

    Technothrillers are generally thrillers that feature technology which is either available already, or is likely to be available in the near future. It's not really very speculative to suppose that next year's PC will have a faster processor than this year's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jens View Post
    In general, though, I think we humans have a tendency to like to pinhole things into categories, but reality isn't always so neat.
    The old "there are two kinds of people: those who sort things into two categories and those who do not."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Beardsley View Post
    A novel about a return to the moon would not count as SF unless it featured a radical new form of propulsion, or it featured aliens on the moon, or something like that.
    Interesting; how would it qualify?

    In early 1960s Stanislaw Lem has written several realistic stories which took place on the Moon (well, largely realistic; he got some minor things wrong). Back then they counted as SF. Should we reclassify them now, and, if yes, to what genre?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    Interesting; how would it qualify?
    Probably as technothriller. It rather depends on the author's intention.

    A useful example would be any film (such as Goldeneye, probably - I haven't seen it) which features a satellite. Putting something into space does not automatically make a story SF.

    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    In early 1960s Stanislaw Lem has written several realistic stories which took place on the Moon (well, largely realistic; he got some minor things wrong). Back then they counted as SF. Should we reclassify them now, and, if yes, to what genre?
    I see no need to reclassify, a) because the story was SF at the time of writing, and b) I'm not really trying to compartmentalise everything, I simply wish to see SF used as a useful description.

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