Jules Verne is an interesting literary phenomenon: an author who wrote adventure fiction in the Victorian era and still retains his popularity 150 years later. His books are today classified as science fiction, but when he wrote them they were rather some sort of near-future techno-fiction. Many stories take place in a boosted version of his contemporary world. For instance, The Mysterious Island is directly tied to the American Civil War, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea contains specific dates and geographical locations relating to the 1860s plus some veiled references to the Great Indian Rebellion of 1857. I would rather say that Jules Verne belongs to the same literary niche as Tom Clancy, whose hitech adventures take place in a speeded-up alternate Earth: an airliner crashing into the Capitol, Washington DC; Israel misplacing a nuclear warhead during the October War in 1973; a Soviet nuclear SLBM submarine defecting to the United States; etc.
Jules Verne’s stories were very important to me during my youth. When I was eight or nine years old, my father gave me a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and said: “I liked this book when I was a kid.” (Dad was born in 1927.) I immediately got absorbed by the fantastic voyages of the Nautilus through the 19th-century oceans*: the ruins of Atlantis, sunken treasure ships, deep-sea monsters and warlike natives. During my excursions to the local library I soon discovered A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, Around the World in Eighty Days, Michael Strogoff, Two Years’ Vacation, and many other of his voyages extraordinares.
One thing that I love about Verne’s stories are his competent protagonists. He writes about men (well, it was the Victorian era after all) who face serious calamtities without flinching and who use whatever skills and technology they can muster to overcome the obstacles in front of them. I come from a clan of six generations of college engineers (M.Sc.)**. My ancestors, starting with my father’s great-grandfather in the 1860s, built church organs, gasworks, rural phone systems, and satellites and my father made sure to pass on the stories of their lives to me when I was young. In my mind they were “Vernian” men and worthy of respect. So this modern outlook on life — technology, competence, perseverance, sterling performance — became engraved in my heart.
My fantastic fiction, be it stories or games, always have an air of Verne. I enjoy writing about our earth (which frequently is a spectacular place by itself), making it “verne-ified”: a planet that is more dramatic, where individuals face greater challenges, where incredible things happen. For tales like Iskriget (The Ice War) and Pandora I have created such alternate-history Terras, sometimes familiar and sometimes grander.
My protagonists — competent women and men — face great challenges, strive to do their duty to their fellow man and get scarred on the way. There are no simple solutions to difficult problems and the stories’ endings are only partially happy. History will always move on when the protagonists wind down after their adventure; they know that no utopias exist and that –- regardless what they have accomplished -– their achievements will not provide The One Remedy for the world’s ills. Instead they have only handled a few specific serious problems, but much remains for others to deal with.
* 44 years later, I still remember the excitement I felt reading the section where Nautilus is stuck under the Antarctic ice and the main protagonist, professor Arronax, is close to suffocating.
** “Civilingenjör” in Swedish and “Diplomingenieur” in German. My nephew, currently a student at a polytechnic university, is the vanguard of the sixth generation.