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This book has on occasion been published in English under the title Off On A Comet, which, though ungainly, does contain the nub of the story.

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A comet crashes into the world and scoops up a lump of North Africa and the Mediterranean and carries it into space complete with human survivors. As the comet swings out in through the solar system it becomes colder and colder; the sea freezes, and the humans survive by retreating into a volcanic cave. The comet's two year parabola brings it back, eventually, towards the sun; the world thaws; and the survivors return to Earth by means of hot air balloon. Yes, you read that right. The comet-to-Earth balloon trip is successful, but stranger things follow.

Verne wanted to portray a world still reeling from the devastation caused by the comet's impact; but his publisher Hetzel persuaded him that readers would rebel against such a downbeat conclusion. In the case of Hector Servadac this results in a hallucinatory final chapter, where the returning travellers come back to a world that seems never to have been struck by a comet at all - nobody remembers the catastrophe, the world seems wholly unaffected, and the travellers themselves begin to doubt the veracity of their own experiences.

But this is not mere oddness for oddness' sake; it is a work that captures with considerable force the way catastrophe can come clattering unexpectedly into our lives, and more importantly the way we cling to the remnants of our lives after this catastrophe has struck. Life changing events are by definition estranging, and deeply odd.

It takes a properly imaginative, metaphorical literature, like science fiction, to do justice to them. There's something particularly wonderful in seeing Verne's typical scientific clarity of tone used to tell a story so plump with impossibilities - that the comet's impact didn't pulverise, or vaporise, what it struck, that any subsequent fragments retained their water and atmosphere, to say nothing of the impossible interplanetary balloon flight and miraculously undamaged world at the end.

It seems to me that this is a novel that not only contains impossibility, but is actually about impossibility; the impossible voyages the imagination is capable of; that charting of impossibility we call science fiction.

Jules Verne was born in the French port of Nantes in to affluent parents. In he tried to run away from home, taking a position as a ship's boy on a vessel bound for India.

Background and adaptations

He was recaptured by his father at Paimboeuf, down the coast from Nantes; in the face of whose displeasure he is supposed to have promised 'je ne voyagerai plus qu'en reve' 'I will no longer travel except in my dreams'. In Verne moved to Paris determined to make a life as a writer.

After a false start as a playwright, Verne established a partnership with the publisher Hetzel the pseudonym of Pierre Jules Stahl. Together they inaugurated the series Voyages Extraordinaire and began publishing attractively and copiously illustrated multi-volume novels narrating amazing travels.

Verne's works have been widely adapted for cinema and television, and continue to be popular today. He died in Topics Books.


The impossible voyages of Jules Verne | Books | The Guardian

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Each page in the original language is mirrored by its English translation on the facing page. Series editor D. In den Warenkorb.