Thursday, October 1, 1998

Joules, Jules and more jewels: a palmful of science


By Craig Froehle and John Swain

Are you finding yourself in numerous awkward social situations with Nobel scientists where the small talk just doesn't flow well? Are you beginning to think that "blinded by science" really might be a physical condition after all? This month, our intrepid columnists brave the murky waters of the ever-changing role of science fact and fiction, to bring you a wealth of science-related resources for your PalmPilot.

Science in literature

It would be almost impossible to discuss the role science has played in world literature without acknowledging the works of Jules Verne. Although numerous writers used the science of their times as fodder for their work, Verne elevated the marriage of literature and technical plausibility to new heights. His blending of accurate science and technology serves as a benchmark for the genre even today.

Despite Verne's modern reputation as the preeminent literary evangelist of scientific progress, it shocks many readers to discover that he did not embrace science with same fervor that many of his novels suggest. It's quite possible this popular misperception is a result of some of the poorly adapted and mercilessly abridged film versions of his most popular works.

Jules Verne's earliest writings were distinctly critical of science and technology. This fact is echoed by the almost Orwellian tone of his recently rediscovered novel, Paris in the 20th Century. In fact, it was his publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who encouraged Verne to pursue pairing science and action in the robust narrative style that would ultimately lead to critical and financial success. From 1863 to until Hetzel's death, Verne produced one profitable novel after another. With the loss of his publisher's direction in 1886, Verne reverted to his earlier literary tones of environmentalism and socialism. He also began openly questioning the very existence of any benefits that science might bring to the troubled world he perceived.

Though Verne was neither a scientist nor engineer, he was an incredibly prolific writer. Today, many of his most popular works (such as A Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, and Around the World in 80 Days) are available in DOC editions.

Modern history is filled with individuals who credit the works of Jules Verne for helping, in part, to provide the vision for their achievements. So take a moment with one of these great works available for the PalmPilot and you may find yourself joining the likes William Beebe, Richard Byrd, Hermann Oberth, Konstantin Tsiolkovski and Neil Armstrong in championing the next great achievements in science and technology.