The World As It Shall Be (Early Classics of Science Fiction)
by Emile Souvestre
Review by Edward Carmien
Wesleyan University Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0819566152
Date: 01 October, 2004 List Price $29.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Reading fiction in translation can often be an awkward experience, akin to wearing one?s shoes on the wrong feet or to brushing one?s teeth with the hand unused to such exercise. The translator here, Margaret Clark, appears to have done a good job, and the only bar to enjoyment on the basis of language is the fact this is a text more than 150 years old and hence a bit old-fashioned.
This is the story of Maurice and Marthe, two young people pictured on page one in a window ?dreaming about the future of the human race,? who meet a fantastic figure. He enables their dream to become reality by putting them into a state of hibernation that resembles death. They are briefly a sensation in the French tabloids of the day before being forgotten until the year 3000, when they awaken to a future that gives the impression of being a time of great progress.
That impression wears away as the pair tour the future world, which has its capital in Tahiti and a travelogue of interesting characters and places for the time-travelers to observe and comment upon. To a contemporary reader the journey is rough and crude, but a thrilling tale told using the most modern of narrative conveniences is not the tale one picks this book up to read. Like later utopian and dystopian novels the point here is a review of the sensibilities of the time and culture of the author.
That many of the comments Souvestre makes still apply today is reason enough alone for those who work in the field of science fiction literature to become familiar with this text?serious readers outside of the academy might also appreciate giving this text a look. Rather than work through the text, I instead collect a number of noteworthy quotes that seem appropriate to our contemporary society.
These remarkable examples point out the extrapolative power that Souvestre expressed in The World As It Shall Be: each represents a logical extrapolation based on current events of his time. Legal battles worthy of media attention echo Souvestre?s neat digest of approaches to courtroom defenses, his scathing statement about the medical industry will seem familiar to anyone who has been caught up in its clutches, today?s animal husbandry practices aren?t quite as extreme as Souvestre describes but surely we?re well on our way with turkeys that can?t walk and well-dosed cattle herds?and most tellingly of all, perhaps, Souvestre expresses the very core of the postmodern sensibility when he notes how the nature of the worker changes the pattern of the scholarly output.
This text is certainly not for the everyday, casual reader of fantastic fiction. It is not quite as enjoyable as Verne, being more polemic and less devoted to adventure and narrative. Even Swift seems a bit more readable, to mention an author who wrote in a similar vein as Souvestre. I highly recommend this text, and Wesleyan?s early classics of science fiction series in general, for serious readers, scholars, and libraries.