Book Review: The Other Log of Phileas Fogg / Author: Philip Jose Farmer / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: May 15th
Ask the average fan of Montag’s Monorail ‘Who was the inventor of Steam punk?’ and you have the sort of debate that can grind on for hours with the only thing ultimately agreed upon being that Wells and Verne got there first. Ask these same fans about Philip Jose Farmer and they will probably mumble something about The River World Saga and leave it at that. With this book we have something a million miles away from Farmer’s renowned works and something with more than a whiff of literary steam.
In a book (originally published in 1973) we find a collection of literary/fictional characters hanging around with historical figures all living a sci-fi adventure located firmly in the fictional realms of other authors works as well as partaking in a much larger narrative that would have frankly surprised the original authors.
With a description that could have been taken from the wiki entry for League of Extraordinary Gentlemen this novel stakes its claim to have got there first in 1973. A surprisingly canny publisher has embraced the similarities with the later work and has used a quote from Allan Moore on the back jacket to acknowledge its remarkable antecedence.
In Farmer’s other (and more) popular work the famous and the infamous have been reborn into a mystical landscape, while this book is set in the Wold Newton universe – a place populated by out of copyright characters.
Origins of the linking narrative lie with a meteor strike in Yorkshire witnessed by a cross section of its more famous fictional inhabitants. This results in an alien incursion and subsequent civil war, these events acting merely as background to a whole series of novels by both Farmer and his fans.
The premise of this specific novel is surprisingly simple. ‘What if Jules Verne only wrote the socially acceptable (and largely believable) account of the real journey of Philias Fogg... leaving out the real story that was happening in parallel.’
And on this point he achieves a simply wonderful yarn, full of corrections and side notes explaining the odd actions and peculiarities of the original novel’s characters. Small moments of charity by Fogg become intricate information exchanges. Card games become a battle of wits and the extraction of an alien teleportation device is a plot point worthy of a James Bond movie.
Does this book require you to have read the original? No – though a certain familiarity with the 1872 novel wouldn’t hurt. A familiarity that can be quickly gained through watching the David Niven movie (and a side order of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues wouldn’t hurt either.) The main villains of the piece are the representatives of the opposing alien race, here brought to vivid life in the form of James Moriarti who also goes by the name of Captain Nemo.
In all honesty I was expecting the novel to be relatively annoying, as any reader would know for a fact that the central characters achieve their goals and survive. However, this is seldom the case and I was actually surprised to see new plot threads and holes that should have been obvious in the original. A glorious ret-con of a novel which is part literary criticism and part pulp fiction. And 100% a rip roaring read.
If you want to experience a modern classic while adding to the debate about the origins of streampunk this is the summer read for you. Hell, it’s got an airship on the cover! What more does one need!