The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence

The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence by Alexei Panshin, Cory Panshin

Book: The World Beyond the Hill: Science Fiction and the Quest for Transcendence by Alexei Panshin, Cory Panshin Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alexei Panshin, Cory Panshin
    In Around the Moon, the viewpoint shifts from Earth to the three men aboard the space-bullet, off in the World Beyond the Hill. And what a strange dissociated trip it is! In his striving for plausibility, Verne has overburdened us with fact. He has placed us safely (good heavens!) inside a cannonball and shot us into space. With a cosmic hand, he has altered the course of the voyage. And all the while, he keeps the attention of his characters firmly fixed on detail so that they won’t notice what is happening to them: “Instead of asking where they were going, they passed their time making experiments, as if they had been quietly installed in their own study.” 71
    Verne keeps his characters as distanced from the mystery of the Moon as he can. The bullet swings around to the far side of the Moon, where Poe had placed those dark and hideous mysteries he prayed we might never have to witness, but the passage is made during that region’s nighttime. Darkness conceals whatever may lie below. Only for one brief moment, by the light of another convenient cosmic fireball rushing by in space, do Verne’s voyagers get a glimpse of what may be traces of atmosphere and water. And later, the French adventurer Ardan conceives the Romantic possibility that certain formations below might be ruined buildings.
    But this is as much of a hint of lunar mystery as Verne can permit himself. That the Moon might be an active, present transcendent realm is a possibility that Verne won’t allow into his story. Never again! Verne draws the line there.
    His characters will not be granted the opportunity to encounter the lunar equivalent of that alien shaggy man in the underground wonderland of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. They will not be given the chance that Axel had to perceive that the material of scientific theory and the archetypal symbols of dreams and madness may be the same.
    No, Verne draws his limits exactly. When his voyagers fire their tiny guidance rockets with the renewed intention of landing on the Moon, Verne summarily overrules them. Far from landing on the Moon, quite unexpectedly, as though the laws of physics had temporarily been suspended, they find themselves headed back home to Earth again.
    With Verne’s heavy auctorial hand nudging the space-bullet this way and that, first parking it in orbit at a discreet distance from the Moon, then directing it back home contrary to the intent of his voyagers, the most that his characters can do is speculate. They can conclude that if the Moon ever did support life and civilization, these must now be long extinct. And then his travelers can subside back into Village normality.
    In a return that is reminiscent of the end of Journey to the Centre of the Earth in its convenience, the space-bullet comes to a safe splashdown in the Pacific. When rescuers arrive, they find the voyagers calmly playing cards, just as though nothing at all had happened to them.
    Verne’s last great work of SF was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1869-70). The novel opens with a reminder to the reader of the mysterious sea-thing that was disturbing the nations of the world by ramming ships in the year 1866. This thing is the Nautilus, a super-scientific submarine under the command of Verne’s most interesting and powerful character, the anonymous Captain Nemo. Nemo is a nationless outlaw with a hatred of tyranny. He is an idealist who has seemingly been embittered by the betrayal of the popular revolutions of 1848 which had shaped the political thought of the young Jules Verne.
    Here we have a dangerous and exciting departure for Verne: a story in which a Romantic is the master of science-beyond-science. We might say that Nemo represents Verne’s final attempt to regain the imaginative balance displayed in Journey to the Centre of the Earth, his last attempt to give the two sides of his nature an integrated expression.
    But this attempt is only partially successful. The narrator of 20,000

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