Saturday, November 28, 2015
The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (Philip Jose Farmer; DAW, 1973/Titan Books, 2012)
The Other Log is an account of the "true" story behind Verne's famous novel Around the World in 80 Days. I'll admit, I read Around the World as a kid and remember not being impressed with it - largely because it wasn't "science fiction" the way 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or From The Earth to the Moon were. Farmer "rectifies" this by recasting Phileas Fogg as an agent of the Eridanean race - a group of long-lived extraterrestrials, stranded on Earth in the 1600s. The Eridaneans are locked in a generational struggle with a similar group of stranded aliens, the Capellans. Both sides, as their numbers dwindled due to attrition or natural causes, recruited human allies through promises of fantastic technology and a form of near-immortality.
When a Capellan agent goes rogue with one of the last surviving "Distorters," a teleportation device, Fogg is dispatched under cover of his famous wager to circumnavigate the globe in 80 days to retrieve the device. Unfortunately, he is pursued by Fix, a Capellan agent under cover as a British police detective, as well as Fix's master - the mysterious Capellan known as "Captain Nemo," seeking the Distorter to further his own goals.
I feel like The Other Log did a lot to rehabilitate Phileas Fogg in my memory, and now I'm curious to revisit Verne's original novel. Before I can do so, however, Meteor House was kind enough to send me an authorized sequel to The Other Log, Phileas Fogg and the War of Shadows, by Josh Reynolds, to which I'm eager to turn my attention next.
To be perfectly honest, The Other Log took a little warming up to for me; initially I was put off, in the first chapter or two, by how stingy Farmer seemed to be regarding the Eridaneans and Capellans, but I quickly realized that that was the point - the reader is allowed to know no more about these mysterious aliens than the characters are; we're meant to puzzle out who they are alongside the characters, and once this dawned on me I found myself enjoying the novel significantly more, especially once we began getting sequences from Fix's perspective.
The novel moves at a pretty good clip, and Farmer glosses over the less eventful parts of the journey (I think because, as I recall, Verne doesn't) so the eighty day journey goes by very quickly, allowing Farmer to focus on more exciting things - a side trip to the deck of the Mary Celeste, for example, or an extended siege of Fogg's Savile Row home.
We also get an addendum in the form of the essay "A Submersible Subterfuge, or Proof Impositive" by H.W. Starr, detailing the inconsistencies between depictions of Nemo in 20,000 Leagues and The Mysterious Island, and drawing some conclusions regarding Nemos' "true" identity. I won't name any names to preserve the mystery for those inspired to read the book based on this review, but suffice to say his arguments are compelling.
The Titan Books edition concludes with an afterward from Win Scott Eckert exploring the autobiographical aspects of Farmer's fiction, including his hints in The Other Log that "Phil Farmer" might be an alias for "Phileas Fogg," and finally a timeline of Wold Newton events as they relate to The Other Log.
All in all, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg gets my recommendation, for anyone who's a fan of alternate histories, Jules Verne, or adventure novels with a dash of science fiction thrown in. It can be purchased from Amazon here.