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Off on a Comet, or, Hector Servadac
278 pages, $8.49
When the comet Gallia impacts Earth, the results are catastrophic… but only for a given few. After the glancing blow, Earth continues in its stately course, but a few chunks of the planet's outer shell are taken up by the comet, along with several dozen people. Thus begins Jules Verne's vision of a voyage through planetary space.
Those caught up on the comet—representing several nationalities—at first assume they've survived nothing more spectacular than an earthquake. But as physical laws seem to change, they investigate their situation and discover their new place in the universe. Adventure abounds, scientific extrapolation leavens the mix, and our voyagers soon revert to their terrestrial human habits: squabbling over control of territory, and trying their best to survive.
When Gallia returns to Earth two years later, the survivors will have one chance to make it home, if they can devise a truly Vernian method to bridge their home world and their new world.
Off on a Comet first appeared in serial form in 1877. One of the author's lesser known works in English, some of its social commentary is truly dated, and the overarching MacGuffin seems beneath his abilities. But after the reader accepts the cometary rendezvous with Earth, the author brings his scientific sensibilities on full blast, for a tale of scientific derring-do and wonders beyond imagining.
Author Jules Verne (1828-1905) started life as a lawyer, but soon quit the profession to devote himself to writing, to the world's greater benefit. His first produced play, Les Pailles rompues (The Broken Straws), debuted in Paris in 1850, the year before he received his law license. His first published short story, "L'Amérique du Sud. Etudes historiques. Les Premiers Navires de la Marine Mexicaine" ("The First Ships of the Mexican Navy"), was published in Musée des families in 1851. His first published novel, Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon)—the first of his Voyages Extraordinaires, and the first of more than 50 novels—finally appeared in 1863. Today, Verne is remembered as one of the founders of science fiction, and is one of the most translated authors in the world.