Jules Verne: Robur the Conqueror

Steampunk Factor: This proved rather harder than I expected. This is Verne right? The one all the Steamlets wanna be like, right? But I keep running the numbers and he's running lower than Mark Twain. WTF? Well, I had said the Rubric might be hard to  shoehorn into the context of Scientific romance, or in this case un Voyage Extraordinaire.  I hope Wells might prove higher. Let's work it out.

Technofantasy: 2/10  - I only make this a two instead of a one because of two reasons. I personally could not suspend my disbelief on the idea that a person falling at terminal velocity would have the air ripped from their lungs. And then the electrical method of propulsion was given not explanation. Beyond that, I truly felt that Verne understood the physics and technical issues a  well enough to make plausible extrapolations.

Neo-Victorianism: 10/10 – Well, it is Victorian. Like Twain's refreshingly liberal take on classic economic  liberalism, in the episode at Dahoomey I found the naive take on the white man's burden to be inspiring. No Star Trek-like prime directive meditation here. You see mass human sacrifice, you blast them to pieces.

Retrofuturism: 10/10 - Ah, the promise of the helicopter airship what could be more retro-future than that?

Steampunk Score: 22/30 = 73.333% brass content

After a quasi-steamish start with 'A Connecticut Yankee', I decided to plunge in with a Verne novel. Other than  half remembered forays as a child, I have only read one other Verne novel as an adult, 'In the Year 2889'. I chose  the 1886 novel, Robur the Conqueror. I chose this as my next book as I wanted a Verne novel that  was known, but not one of the usual suspects (20,000 Leagues, 80 Days), also I have always been fascinated by the idea of the aerial aircraft carrier, and judging from the beautiful model I found at Steam Noir ages ago, that's what I thought I had. (Sadly Steam Noir is loosely based on the actual novel.)

It seems that Verne is very much a formula writer. Some quick checks show that the enigmatic genius main character  who kidnaps/rescues the narrator, the whirlwind (especially in this book) world tour, and the existence of the valet are important themes. This book is no exception. The book start at the meeting of the Weldon Institute as they debate best way to power their newest aerostat (dirigible), the Go Ahead.The brilliant hero, Robur, crashes the meeting declares the future to be  the property of heavier rather than lighter than air travel. After setting off a riot, he kidnaps the Weldon Institute's president and secretary for a world spanning tour. I won't go further as to avoid spoilers.

I had heard that Verne was meticulous in working out how his technology could and should work. He spends a large part of the novel showing just that. At the beginning fo the book Robur lays out the four main ways to achieve powered flight to be interesting. They were and are: the Aerostat (balloon/dirigible/blimp), the Aeronef (helicopter),  the Airplane (fixed wing + thrust), and finally the Ornithopter (flapping-wing). He declares that Aeronef is the rightful lord of the air, and spends the rest of the book exploring that theme.

Some other themes I find interesting in the book are that of technical predisposition as ideology. I have a hard time seeing the homicidal rages that characters are brought to over technical points of propeller placement as realistic, nut this and the approaches that Sir Boss takes in Connecticut Yankee make me want to re-explore some  old Francis Schaefer themes.

Finally I was disappointed in the end where Verne moralizes about human culture not keeping up with our technical advancement in a style that presages the 1950's style cautionary tale. Where this not bad enough, he turns that into straight allegory.

For someone else' take, Trial by Steam has just released a review of Robur as well.

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