A Dark Vision Of 'Paris In The 20th Century'

Commentator Andrei Codrescu has been thinking about how the writer Jules Verne shaped his vision of the future. But reading Paris in the 20th Century — written in 1863 and published only in 1994 — he gets a darker vision from Verne, where humans are being replaced by robots. He knows why Verne waited a hundred years to publish this view.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish.

When he was young, our commentator Andrei Codrescu used to find a rosy outlook in the writings of a certain French writer and futurist. More recently, he's been finding that outlook doesn't look quite so bright.

ANDREI CODRESCU: I was talking to Jules Verne, the writer who designs the future in my childhood, who made me want to live in a submarine with a library, which I did eventually in New York in the '60s. I named my dog Nemo.

Jules made me want to travel around the world fast, and I did that, too. I didn't go to the moon, but others did. And he even visited me when I was a kid in the Carpathians in his novel "The Castle in the Carpathians," where my great-grandmother La Stilla lived.

And I just read "Paris in the 20th Century," written in 1863 and published only in 1994. Your hero, Michel, looks for books in the bookstores and finds nothing but technology. He is a poet. His family of bankers considers him a disgrace to the century of machines, like his uncle Monsieur Huguenin, who is a librarian, a reader and an artist and also a disgrace.

In a time when robots do all the killing, in a world where there are no journalists because machines write their own news, they are perfect. And then a dreadful winter descends on Europe, resulting in a mass famine, temperatures 30 below zero, food supplies destroyed, all rivers frozen, and Michel dies in that machine world, weeping over the grave of a dead poet.

And now I'm a grownup, 10 years into the 21st century, and the world looks a lot like you called it. And I can see why you waited 100 years to publish this, Jules. If you hadn't, I might have grown up a lot less hopeful and given submarines and airplanes a wide berth.

I might have lived in a cave if you weren't so optimistic about the future, dear Jules, Monsieur Verne. I have no choice now but to download you into my Kindle, more fuel for the bonfires greeting the sci-fi year 2011.

CORNISH: Commentator Andrei Codrescu says his new book "The Poetry Lesson" is the last book written by a human.

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