Jules Verne is a man who has escaped the anonymity of oblivion, his name probably as well-known today as it was a hundred and ten years ago when the French writer died. Considered to be the father of the science-fiction genre and a prolific storyteller, Verne’s fantastical machines and imaginative contraptions are a common source of inspiration for many fans of Steampunk today. Lesser known is Jules’ son, Michel.
Author credit for this story is confusing. Originally published under the name Jules Verne in an 1889 edition of “The Forum”, a New York publication, many scholars agree it was in reality mostly or completely the work of his son, Michel, who would have been 28 at the time. Both writers did collaborate on some later works. Jules rewrote portions of the story, and published in France the next year as “The Day of an American Journalist in 2890”. The story is often presented at written by both Jules and Michel Verne.
2889. It’s still a long way off, but how would the world of the far future look to someone living at the end of the Victorian era? In 1889 Jack the Ripper was on the loose and terrifying London. Vincent van Gogh completed his painting The Starry Night. The United States welcomed North and South Dakota, Montana and Washington as the 39th-42nd states in the union. Thomas Edison showed his very first motion picture, Charlie Chaplin and Adolph Hitler were born just 4 days apart, and The Eiffel Tower opened a month after this story was first published. Later that same year Jules Verne inspired journalist Nellie Bly to travel around the world in less than 80 days. She succeeded in just over 72 days. Such was the world of the Vernes when this story was written.
The story starts off with the author familiarizing us with the world of 2889. While some of Verne’s predictions about the future were in the right vein, some of it falls short. Verne predicted a world of moguls and the super-rich. The story’s main character is one of those, a newspaper baron, worth an “almost unimaginable” $10 billion. According to the Forbes list the world’s wealthiest man today is Bill Gates at $76 billion. Our richest media mogul today is Rupert Murdoch, whose net worth is estimated to be around $14 billion. So, we’re there already. Unfortunately, newspapers are a dying breed today, but Verne did predict the diversification of media beyond print into different arenas. He predicted that news items would be read to subscribers over the telephone. He also predicted interactive media, as people could ask the readers questions.
Verne also predicted that thanks to advancements in hygiene, humans’ average life expectancy would increase, however he was again off by an order of magnitude. He predicted an increase from 37 to 52. Currently, life expectancy in developed countries is around 80, and within this century is expected to exceed 100 years. By the time we get to 2889, we may well have figured out how to extend that to two or three centuries. At that point we would probably be a spacefaring and colonizing species, as the current rate of population growth combined with that kind of longevity would have long since outstripped our planet’s ability to support us.
Verne even foresees today’s video chats. He describes an invention called the “telephote”, which transmits images as well as voice, using a series of sensitive mirrors connected by wires. When we apply the generous interpretation so often afforded such visionaries and prognosticators, one might interpret that as describing today’s fiber optics.
But I digress. After painting a vivid and imaginative canvas of some of the wonders of the 29th century, the author takes us on a trip through the day of Mr. Fritz Napoleon Smith, American newspaper magnate, owner of The Earth Chronicle.
Smith visits his pool of 1500 reporters, all reading different stories to particular audiences of subscribers, providing images via the telephotes. The subscribers can select from an organized menu that classifies the news together into a sortable list and the subscriber only hears the news that concerns them. Kind of sounds like a physical manifestation of a news website, does it not?
Leaving the reporters, Smith visits an even larger hall full of astronomers, and after delivering some helpful guidance to them, he makes another stop before breakfast to engage in a little international diplomacy. After breakfast, Smith is off by “air car” – a vehicle that travels through vacuum tubes – to check his “accumulators”, which can best be understood as a massive hydroelectric conversion of Niagara Falls. (Keep in mind, the longest electrical transmission line in America at the time Verne wrote this was only 14 miles.) After returning from the Falls late in the afternoon, Smith entertained a dozen people eager to show him their “big idea”. He was only interested in four of the proposals, offering them each funding, or buy-in as a partner in their venture.
There are other predictions made that can be compared to modern technology, and one cataclysmically bad idea, but I shall leave that to the reader to discover.
There is no plot twist, or even a real plot to this story. It is simply an exercise in letting the imagination run free on describing the world of a thousand years into the future. Written in late Victorian English, the vocabulary can be challenging at times, but I was so entertained by this piece that I actually read it twice and listened to it once on the commute to work.
The story can be downloaded for free from Feedbooks. On Librivox, the audio book can be found in three collections: The LibriVox 8th Anniversary Collection (Track #77, read by Jon Kissack, time 35:15); Short Science Fiction Collection 006 (Track #06, read by James Christopher, time 30:40); Short Story Collection Vol. 009 (Track #04, read by Esther, time 37:39)
The title of the story was used for a low-budget post-apocalyptic television movie in 1967, but the movie was actually a remake of Roger Corman’s classic 1955 movie, “Day the World Ended” and has nothing to do with the Verne work.