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Posts Tagged ‘Jules Verne’

A Brief History of Spacefarers

May 19, 2015 | by

How America imagines its astronauts.

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The Mercury Seven, 1960.

One of the things that makes the job title astronaut different from other jobs is that it existed in the collective imagination for centuries before it was ever actually anyone’s occupation. In the second century CE, Lucian of Samosata imagined travelers going to the moon and fighting a war with its inhabitants. In Jules Verne’s immensely influential 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon, the word astronaut is never used, but three men seal themselves into a metal capsule in order to fly to the moon. Many of the details Verne came up with were so outlandish as to invite ridicule if they had not become reality a hundred years later in the Apollo program, including a launch from Florida and a safe splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Verne’s three space travelers behave in some ways we now associate with astronauts—they solve problems that arise on their mission, analyze new information they observe outside their windows, and do calculations to figure out their location and speed. On the other hand, they indulge in nonastronaut-like behaviors such as getting drunk, becoming histrionic about unexpected problems, and expressing doubt about the meaning of their journey, about whether they should be doing this at all.

One of the first uses of the word astronaut to refer to a human traveling in space was in Neil R. Jones’s short story “The Death’s Head Meteor,” in 1930.

The young astronaut entered the space flyer, closed the door, and was alone in the air-tight compartment just large enough to accommodate him. On the instrument board before him were dials, levers, gauges, buttons and queer apparatus which controlled and operated the various features of the craft. He turned on his oxygen supply and his air rejuvenator so that the air could be used more than once, after which he shoved his starting lever forward. The craft raced suddenly off the roof and into the cloudless sky above the vast city of the twenty-sixth century.

Jones was probably as surprised as anyone to learn how soon his new word became an actual job title, only twenty-nine years later. In between, during World War II, the first actual rockets emerged. This was the beginning of a new era in which the astronaut became a consistent character to tell stories about, if still speculative. Though the rockets weren’t ready to safely contain humans, their streamlined hulls brought with them a clearer image of the astronaut fantasy. Part fighter pilot, part frontiersman, the helmeted spaceman climbed into sleek machines and left Earth in the black-and-white television shows of the fifties. In 1954, Walt Disney created Man in Space, a series intended to promote his new Disneyland, which was set to open the following year. In the opening shot of the series, Walt himself speaks into the camera. “One of man’s oldest dreams has been the desire for space travel,” he tells us with an avuncular twinkle. “Until recently this seemed to be an impossibility.” Read More »

Science Fiction in the White House, and Other News

May 8, 2015 | by

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  • A plea to the professoriat: If you really love the humanities, do them a favor and shut up about Shakespeare. “On the shrinking support for the liberal arts in American education … organizations such as ACTA and NAS mistake a parochial struggle over particular authors and curricula for the full-throated defense of the humanities.”
  • When Jules Verne meets the sterling judgment of our nation’s executive branch: John Quincy Adams once approved a journey to the center of the Earth. The plan asked for “one hundred brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia in the fall season, with Reindeer and slays, on the ice of the frozen sea … ”
  • Fran Ross’s 1974 novel, Oreo, newly reissued, “resists the unwritten conventions that still exist for novels written by black women. There’s nothing redemptively uplifting about Ross’s work. The title doesn’t refer to the Bible or the blues. The work does not refer to slavery. The character is never violated, sexually or otherwise. The characters are not from the South. Oreo is sincerely ironic, hilarious, brainy, impenetrable at times.”
  • Scott Timberg’s new book Culture Crash holds the well-being of the cultural middle class as the key to American creativity.” But this thesis only reveals “an unexplored aesthetic bias that favors the sort of art reviewed in the pages of the unrepentantly middle-class New York Times, art that becomes middlebrow through its relative accessibility and popularity. Forget the cynical dross intended for the tasteless masses: It is this kind of middlebrow culture—the kind best known and appreciated by well-rounded liberal-arts grads—of which Timberg wants to see more, even though it abounds right now.”
  • Of Mice and Men contains such hair-raising profanities as bastard and God damn, which make it unsuitable, according to a curriculum-review committee in Idaho, for fourteen- or fifteen-year-old students. “Teachers actually had the audacity to have students read these profanities out loud in class,” one parent said.

The Serviceable Prose of Jules Verne, and Other News

July 16, 2014 | by

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An 1884 caricature of Jules Verne from L'Algerie, a magazine.

  • On reading Middlemarch and being twenty-one: “Eliot’s ability to describe people was, in its subtlety and depth and scrupulousness, so many levels above my pay-grade. My own attempts were feeble in comparison. ‘He plays bass and dislikes capitalism and has long hair and an intense look,’ I’d say to a friend in explaining why I liked a certain guy, and the truth was that it was the best I could do.”
  • Jules Verne was unquestionably imaginative: a science-fiction pioneer. And yet … “Verne may be a master of sorts, but he is not a master of high art. A casual reader, even in English translation, can see that Verne’s prose is rarely more than serviceable and that it gets overheated when he presumes to court eloquence … Each of Verne’s heroes is a nonpareil, the most remarkable man in the world—as long as the reader is immersed in his particular story. Only in other Verne novels—and in television commercials for a Mexican beer—can one find his equals.”
  • Dungeons & Dragons has turned forty, and, “for certain writers, especially those raised in the seventies and eighties, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives.”
  • Archie will die by taking a bullet for his gay friend. “Archie taking the bullet really is a metaphor for acceptance,” Archie Comics publisher and co-CEO Jon Goldwater said, in case you didn’t get it.
  • From Bach to Deadmau5: a prehistory of electronic-music festivals traces their roots to the nineteenth century.

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La Couture Comique

May 7, 2013 | by

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Lucien Métivet’s name may not be familiar to many contemporary readers or art aficionada, and placed alongside that of his friend and fellow art student Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec it may seem, by comparison, thoroughly obscure. A century ago, however, Métivet was a hugely popular belle epoque artist, celebrated not so much for his paintings as for his posters, book and magazine illustrations, advertising art, and—especially—his humorous drawings. He embodied, in the 1890s and after, an idea that the world has only now begun to embrace: that a cartoonist and fine artist can be one and the same.

His 1893 poster portraying chanteuse Eugénie Buffet as a woman of the cold streets not only advertised her performances at the club Ambassadeurs; it immortalized her stage persona and made Métivet’s name at the age of thirty. It remains as much a part of the visual legacy of the era as Toulouse-Lautrec’s posters of Buffet’s mentor Aristide Bruant. But Métivet’s stock in trade for the decades that followed was drawing, swiftly and prolifically, for publication—whether supplying covers and cartoons for Le Rire (Laughter), the most popular humor journal in Paris, or dozens of illustrations for an edition of Maupassant or Balzac, or for a lesbian-themed erotic novel (or two) by Pierre Louÿs, or for the first two adventure-filled volumes of Paul d’Ivoi’s Voyages Excentriques, a hugely successful (and conspicuously deliberate) competitor to Jules Verne’s Les Voyages Extraordinaires.

Quantity and artistic quality, however, rarely go hand in hand, especially under deadline, and an undiscriminating catch-all collection of L. M.’s work is liable to make a poor impression, cluttered as it is with examples of the slapdash and the merely adequate. That the appreciation of a prolific artist requires selectivity is no surprise; the surprise, instead, is the insouciance of the exceptions, the fact that among drawings printed as amusing diversions a century ago there are those that still charm, still resurface with a wink and a smile to inspire a reciprocal smile across a divide of so many generations. The survival of the sunny and comic, as if blithely stepping over world wars, cultural upheavals, and time itself, is always a kind of miracle.

And now it is spring again, a time when ladies, and at least a few gentlemen, think of fashion. Métivet’s Modes Potagères (Vegetable Fashion), a full-page color illustration from the April 6, 1901, issue of Le Rire included a brief text as caption, which encourages us to note, and savor, such features as the lettuce bodice, pickle sleeves, and artichoke ruffle on the outfit of the dark-haired beauty in the pumpkin toque; and the beetroot princess dress with its green-pea flowerbed and cardoon collar with curly-endive neck ruff on the elegant lady of the cauliflower hat and carrot umbrella. With its precisely enumerated whimsicality, cheerful colors, and the evident and so-human pride and pleasure in the faces and postures of the models, this is an image perpetually floriferous. Read More »

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I Opened the Door

November 16, 2012 | by

At last I had begun writing my long-planned book about Captain Ahab’s doomed enterprise in Moby-Dick—about Robur’s doomed enterprise in Verne’s Maître du Monde—about the doomed enterprise of Doctor Hans Reinhardt from the 1979 science-fiction film The Black Hole.

Eleven thousand words in, and may God grant that I learn it sooner next time or else not at all, I understood with blinding clarity that my book itself was another doomed enterprise.

As Don Quixote said: y yo hasta agora no sé lo que conquisto a fuerza de mis trabajos—I do not even know what I am conquering.

“Master of the world”! Robur-le-Conquérant!—what a delusion! what a farce! The quintessence of megalomania: Richard Wagner named his dog Robur.

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Literary Paint Chips: Gallery 2

May 2, 2012 | by

Paint Samples, suitable for the home, sourced from colors in literature. As seen in our two-hundredth issue. See Gallery 1 here.

Havisham’s Complexion1 Anti-Sex Scarlet2 Plum Purple3 Closed Eyelid4
Green Paste5 Rain Stone6 Nothing7 Esther’s Sauce8
Anthracite Brazier9 Dove10 Encrimsoned11 Foul Mood12
Snot13 Eyes14 Aschenbach’s Youth15 Saffron Silk16
Elm Shadow17 Paris18 Paper Smell19 England20
Rat Brown21 20,00022 Dorian Scarlet23 Lilac Ocean24
Basking Pear25 March Morning26 Sour Apple27 Gulag28

Annotations

  1. “ ‘Dear Miss Havisham,’ said Miss Sarah Pocket. ‘How well you look!’ ‘I do not,’ returned Miss Havisham.‘I am yellow skin and bone.’” ‘Great Expectations,’ Charles Dickens.
  2. “A narrow scarlet sash, emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League, was wound several times round the waist of her overalls, just tightly enough to bring out the shapeliness of her hips.” ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ George Orwell.
  3. “ ‘Not those socks, Jeeves,’ I said,gulping a bit but having a dash at the careless, off-hand tone. ‘Give me the purple ones.’ ‘I beg your pardon, sir?’ ‘Those jolly purple ones.’ ‘Very good, sir.’ ” ‘The Inimitable Jeeves,’ P. G. Wode- house.
  4. “I pulled up my feet, bent my knees, and rested my chin on my hand. Then I closed my eyes. Still no sounds. The darkness behind my closed eyelids was like the cloud-covered sky, but the gray was somewhat deeper.” ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,’ Haruki Murakami.
  5. “I bought makeup in tubes off a rack, and in the cold and dirty toilet of the gas station, I attempted a transformation, slapping buff-colored liquid over my face and rubbing green paste on my eyelids.” “Dulse,” Alice Munro.
  6. “A rainstorm would last hours, soaking the ruined outbuilding nearby, darkening its stones.” “St. Martin,” Lydia Davis.
  7. “Taken to his uncle’s house once, he had stumbled on her in the soft pink bedroom. Ida had just emerged from her bath and she sat in a powder blue nothing before a mirror at a little table crammed with jars.” ‘The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,’ Mordecai Richler.
  8. “He taught me how to eat avocados by melting grape jelly and french dress- ing together in a saucepan and filling the cup of the pear with the garnet sauce.” ‘The Bell Jar,’ Sylvia Plath.
  9. “At the street corner there was a brazier alight, the red cones of anthracite beautifully glowing, and a whiff of heat shedding from it.” ‘Girls in Their Married Bliss,’ Edna O’Brien.
  10. “Passersby, who, of course, stopped and stared, had just time to see a face of the very greatest importance against the dove-gray upholstery, before a male hand drew the blind and there was nothing to be seen except a square of dove gray.” ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ Virginia Woolf.
  11. “Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around.” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe.
  12. “At home I’d slept for several hours then woke to a blue light and in a foul mood.” ‘Ticknor,’ Sheila Heti.
  13. “Tom was crying. He put his knuckles in his eyes the way little girls do on biscuit tin lids. A large tube of green snot hung out of one nostril, and when he sniffed it bobbed out of sight.” ‘The Cement Garden,’ Ian McEwan.
  14. “Pretty eyes. Pretty blue eyes. Big blue pretty eyes. Run, Jip, run. Jip runs, Alice runs. Alice has blue eyes. Jerry has blue eyes. Jerry runs. Alice runs. They run with their blue eyes. Four blue eyes. Four pretty blue eyes. Blue-sky eyes. Blue-like Mrs. Forrest’s blue blouse eyes. Morning-glory-blue-eyes. Alice-and-Jerry-blue-storybook-eyes.” ‘The Bluest Eye,’ Toni Morrison.
  15. “ ‘Surely you will permit me to restore what belongs to you?’ ‘How?’ asked Aschenbach. For answer the oily one washed his client’s hair in two waters, one clear and one dark, and lo, it was as black as in the days of his youth.” ‘Death in Venice,’ Thomas Mann.
  16. “But still at home, ignoring him, I’ll stay . . . Beautiful, clad in saffron silks all day.” ‘Lysistrata,’ Aristophanes.
  17. “On a sheep-cropped knoll under a clump of elms we ate the strawberries and drank the wine—as Sebastian promised, they were delicious together—and we lit fat, Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs, Sebastian’s eyes on the leaves above him, mine on his profile, while the blue-gray smoke rose, untroubled by any wind.” ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ Evelyn Waugh.
  18. “In Paris, Cyril had a room away from his mother. I could already imagine the window open to the pink and blue sky, the wonderful sky of Paris, with the pigeons cooing on the windowsill, and with Cyril beside me on the narrow bed.” ‘Bonjour Tristesse,’ Françoise Sagan.
  19. “It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell. But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.” “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
  20. “At Gatwick they found a taxi without difficulty. It was raining, as it always seemed to be when you returned to England. Graham gazed through the speckled window. Why did every- thing green seem to have so much brown in it here? And how was it possible for things to be both damp and dusty at the same time?” ‘Before She Met Me,’ Julian Barnes.
  21. “It was a rough and ugly thing, an overall length of twenty-eight feet, a five-foot draft and just that one junk sail, but with a respectable three hundred and fifty square feet. A trim tab rudder hung on the stern. She was heavy and slow. And very ugly. I made her more ugly by painting her rat brown.” ‘The Shipping News,’ Annie Proulx.
  22. “The solar rays shone through the watery mass easily, and dissipated all color, and I clearly distinguished objects at a distance of a hundred and fifty yards. Beyond that the tints darkened into fine gradations of ultramarine, and faded into vague obscurity.” ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,’ Jules Verne.
  23. “His finely chiseled nostrils quivered, and some hidden nerve shook the scarlet of his lips and left them trembling.” ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray,’ Oscar Wilde.
  24. “The sky turns a soft lilac. Seeing this magnificent, enchanting sky, the ocean frowns at first, but soon itself takes on such tender, joyful, passionate colors as human tongue can hardly name.” “Gusev,” Anton Chekhov.
  25. “Grapes for the asking, / Pears red with basking / Out in the sun, / Plums on their twigs; / Pluck them and suck them, / Pomegranates, figs.” “Goblin Market,” Christina Rossetti.
  26. “It was a typical March morning when we got up to drive them to the train: blowy, dark, with spits of rain now and then.” ‘The Country Wife,’ Dorothy Van Doren.
  27. “White halogen off the green of the composite surface, the light out on the indoor courts at the Port Washington Tennis Academy is the color of sour apples.” ‘Infinite Jest,’ David Foster Wallace.
  28. Both of us were weak, dried out; our skin was grayish-yellow on our bones.” ‘The Gulag Archipelago,’ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

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