Dan's Reviews > Robur the Conqueror

Robur the Conqueror by Jules Verne
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's review
Apr 13, 2009

did not like it
bookshelves: science-fiction-fantasy

I like me some science fiction now and then. When I first started reading 'grown-up' books in fourth grade or so, I refused to read anything but science fiction and fantasy even. As an adult, I've lost most of my taste for it and generally am of the opinion that the majority of the vast ocean of science fiction is derivative trash.

But the truly greats, the Asimovs, the Leguins, I still love. I think it's a mistake to let yourself, whether writing or reading, be blinded by the speculative and other 'alien' (sometimes literal) aspects. Great science fiction's greatest strength is not in weird aliens or cool spaceships. It is in its ability to, through comparison, make deep observations on humanity and human nature.

This is why I hate Jules Verne.

No one can argue that he didn't have an almost scary ability to foresee future technology. Helicopters to the Apollo program (no, not submarines, those predated him). And who can forget how he predicted that dinosaurs would survive at the center of the earth?!

My point is, I'm not taking issue with his scientific prediction, accurate or otherwise. I would like to posit that Jules Verne was either among the most overrated novelists ever, or some sort of time-traveling robot.

Verne, like the rest of us, seems very impressed with his abilities as a technological prophet. So impressed, that he neglects to spend much time in his novels attending to things like plot, characterization or meaning, so busy pounding the kettle drum of prophecy is he.

Let me give a good example: Robur the Conqueror, a tale of science gone mad in the very clouds! A story about an air pirate with a battleship sized helicopter terrorizing the skies of the steam age! Exciting! What's not to like? A lot.

In Robur… we have one of the clearest examples of what I'm going to refer to as "Jules Verne fallacies of characterization" or "Verne Fallacy" if you like. From the moment the titular pirate, Robur, takes the stage in the novel, Verne is at great pains to remind us how terribly villainous this rogue is. Some of the acts of heinous evil committed by Robur within the scope of the novel? Saving peasants from bandits! Rescuing shipwrecked sailors! Finally, the lowest of the low, rescuing the protagonists from a dimwitted ballooning experiment only after they've righteously attempted to murder him. How do our heroes react to this final attack on decency? IMPOTENT FIST SHAKING RAGE! Look out Doctor Doom, there's a new villain in town and he's going to cure cancer and bring happiness to the children's ward at the hospital! Honestly, how do you contend with that sort of depravity?

You may notice the logical disconnect. Verne desperately wants us to know how evil Robur is, but his actions don't really support what we're told. This is where the Verne Fallacy comes in. We are expected to believe that Robur is evil, not based on things like his actions within the novel or the attitudes he expresses or his dealings with others. We are expected to accept that he is evil because Jules Verne says so. This is a common Verne theme. Characters are described in a certain way that may or may not be illustrated by their behavior, and the reader is expected to accept that not on evidence but on the author's insistence.

It's a poor way to tell a story. The sort of lazy writing you'd expect from some paperback thriller trash or bargain bin romance. But I think it's reasonable to expect more from a 'classic' or 'master'.

It seems to me that Verne is only seen for his predictions (the scarily accurate ones, not the crazy ones that get swept under the rug), when his quality as a novelist is less than good. The predictions are interesting, as can be a dense report on quantum physics. Neither makes good reading for most of us.

So it seems to me that Jules Verne was either a mediocre novelist who is forgiven far too much for the sake of his prophetic abilities or someone who had only a theoretical familiarity with how human beings think or act. Like a robot. Or an autistic. FROM THE FUTURE.

How else could he know about the underground dinosaurs?
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Jamie (new) - added it

Jamie Flower So kidnapping people and holding them against their will is not evil?

message 2: by Dan (new) - rated it 1 star

Dan On a scale of 1 to genocide? It's maybe a 3. 4 is one of them is a lady and thereby prone to the vapors.

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