The Return to the Frontier in the Extraordinary Voyage: Verne's the Mysterious Island and Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. - Extrapolation
The importance of Jules Verne's voyages extraordinaires for any construction of the history of science fiction seems beyond dispute. As James Gunn put it in a recent roundtable discussion of Verne's relevance to the twenty-first century, "It was Jules Verne who jump-started the genre, proving that this visionary literature had a world-wide readership and the potential to support a variety of writers, and it is difficult to imagine what science fiction would have become without him" ("Jules Verne Roundtable" 172). Nonetheless, some prominent Verne scholars hold that "Jules Verne is not quite the father of science fiction that he is so often claimed to be" (Unwin 6). Timothy Unwin insists on the historical distance between Verne and twentieth-century sf: "when he writes of global travel and technological wizardry, it is firmly in the context of nineteenth-century values and expectations" (6). Arthur B. Evans has persuasively demonstrated the formal and narratological differences that separate Verne's "scientific fiction" from the science fiction of a later generation ("Science Fiction vs. Scientific Fiction in France"). William Butcher, too, argues that Verne's "reputation as father of science fiction is erroneous," calling it an anachronistic misconstruction that has "distracted attention from serious literary study of his novels" (43). I agree with Unwin, Evans, and Butcher that Verne is not the father of science fiction, but my reasons for saying so are quite different from the ones they have advanced. Verne is not the father of science fiction because the history of sf is not a matter of parents begetting children, but rather, as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari say about rhizomatic assemblages, it is a process that "operates by variation, expansion, conquest, capture, offshoots.... [I]t has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills" (21). Gunn is quite right to emphasize Verne's crucial role in establishing sf's milieu, and Verne's place in the sf canon, conferred upon him in Gernsback's Amazing, has been solidified, rather than shaken, by the efforts of the current generation of scholars. But that centrality need not entail the formal continuity Evans correctly shows not to exist, nor need it erase the historical differences Unwin correctly insists upon.