Review: In the Year 2889, by Jules Verne?

If man is still alive… if woman can still survie, they might find the world as predicted by Jules Verne.

Ah, Jules Verne.  Many
see Shelley as being the grandmother of science fiction, and then Verne as it’s
father, along with H.G Wells and Hugo Gernsback – it’s not a typical nuclear
family.  Jules Verne was the author of
such classics as ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ’20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’
and ‘Journey to the Center of The Earth’.
Of which I’d have to say 20,000 Leagues is my favourite, not just
because of the descriptions of the Nautilus, but because of the fascinating and
enigmatic character of Captain Nemo.  And
the Verne story we’re looking at today is… none of those.  What we’re looking is a short story published
in 1889.

The reason there’s a question mark in the title is that
although it was published with Jules Verne as the author, some believe that it
was written by his son, Michel, with just a little bit of help from his dad.  Nevertheless, Jules Verne was a renowned
futurist and the reason I wanted to look at this is that it contains a lot of ‘predictions’
about what life would be like one thousand after this stories publication, in
2889.

The story follows a day in the life of a media mogul in that
year, Mr. Fritz Napoleon Smith.  The
story begins by explaining that the people of this time live ‘continually in
fairyland’, little thinking of the distant past when people roamed the muddy
streets in horse drawn boxes.  In the future,
there are lines of aerial locomotion crossing the sky in every direction and
railroads have been replaced by pneumatic tubes with speeds of a thousand miles
per hours.  The story then goes on to
describe the technology that powers this world, with talk of ‘etheric particles’
(the ether was believed to have been the medium through which light travels,
and is now known to not exist).  But they
also have accumulators which ‘absorb and condense the living force contained in
the sun’s rays’, so solar power, basically.
More than that though, they can also collect from streams and waterfalls
and the wind… yes, in 1889 it was predicted that green energy would become our
primary source of power.  In a thousand
years.

Mr Smith is the owner of The Earth Chronicle, and he
originated telephonic journalism.
Instead of crumbly old papers, he’s had the revolutionary idea of having
the news spoken to subscribers, along ‘interesting conversations with
reporters, statesmen, and scientists’.
Verne seems to be describing radio and television journalism… but
wait!  There’s more!  Each subscriber owns a ‘phonograph’ which
collects the news of the day whenever they’re not in the mood to listen
directly, and non-subscribers can learn the news at any of the phonographs
around.

After a lot of ‘hits’ with his predictions so far, Verne
does go on to say that the average lifespan has been increased to 52 years due
to hygiene and basically eliminating all micro-organisms.  That’s something that will pop again more
famously in Wells’ War of the Worlds – it seems people in the nineteenth
century new that bacteria caused diseases had the idea of just killing all of
them, not yet realising that would be impossible and some bacteria is actually
good for us.

Anyway, Mr Smith begins his day in New York by making a
video call… sorry, ‘telephote call’ to his wife in Paris, and sees that she’s
still asleep.  After exiting his
mechanical dresser, he does a tour of the Earth Chronicle building, meeting the
hundred authors he employs to write serialised fiction, and the fifteen hundred
reporters.  Each reporter has a
connection to a telephotic line, so the subscribers can not only hear the news,
but see it.  They can also apparently
transmit photographs.

In the astronomical department they receive phototelegrams
from Mercury, Venus, and Mars.  But not
Jupiter… yet.  I’m actually not sure if
they’re communicating with human colonists, or alien beings from those world,
but I get the impression it’s meant to be the later.  They also seem to have discovered a ninth
planet beyond Neptune.  Imagine that.

Verne then goes on describe cloud marketing.  That is, actually projecting advertisements
onto the clouds.  Up until this point I
found this future rather exciting.  Now
it’s suddenly a dystopia.

He then goes on to meet some ambassadors.  It seems this world is basically all divided
between the USA, Russia, China and… France.
Whereas Britain has become a part of the United States (which now has a
hundred stars on its flag), France has not only held on to its empire, but
conquered all of Africa.  Because French
imperialism is good imperialism.  The
good news though is that Australia is still independent.

Then he makes another call to his wife, meets some more
people (including a chemist who believes he has mastered the elements to
manufacture any material such stone, wood, metal… perhaps even flesh and
blood.  Eww).  The story ends with a failed attempt to
revive a scientist who had been conducting an experiment in suspended
animation, and Mr Smith remarking ‘here is a method that needs improvement’.

Now, this story doesn’t have much plot to it.  It’s really just a vision of the future as
imagined in 1889, and as you’ll have seen a great deal of it has already come
to pass.  There were also a few misses in
there, but that’s to be expected.
Overall Verne’s reputation as being a prophet of future technology
remains.  He always denied being a
prophet however – he just did a lot of research, reading the scientific and engineering
journals of the day and extrapolating from them.  In truth I feel a lot of science fiction
prophecies are self-fulfilling… someone is inspired by a story they read when
they were young and then goes on to become a scientist or engineer and make
that thing they read about happen.

Nevertheless, this story was a fascinating read.  It can be found in many collections of Jules
Verne’s works that you can find in any good ebook store.

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