“In the Year 2889” is a short story by the prolific French author Jules Verne, a pioneer of science fiction known for his imaginative and forward-thinking narratives. Published in 1889, the story projects a future where technological advancements have radically transformed society. It focuses on the daily life of Fritz Napoleon Smith, the influential editor of the “Earth Chronicle,” a newspaper that has evolved into a powerful institution. Through a detailed description of Smith’s activities and interactions, Verne explores themes of technological progress, media influence, and societal changes.

Comprehensive Plot Summary

The dawn of the 29th century reveals a world so advanced that its inhabitants barely notice the marvels surrounding them. Skyscrapers reach a thousand feet high, streets are 300 feet wide, and cities house up to ten million people. The climate is controlled, transportation is swift through pneumatic tubes that whisk passengers at a thousand miles per hour, and communication happens instantly through telephotography. It is within this context that Fritz Napoleon Smith, the most powerful newspaper editor of his time, wakes up.

Smith’s day begins with discontent as he misses his wife, Edith, who has been away in Paris for eight days, the longest separation in their marriage. Using the phonotelephote, an advanced device that transmits both sound and images, Smith watches his wife sleep, her image comforting him from afar. With a sigh, he shakes off his melancholy and prepares for the day, assisted by a mechanical dresser that outfits him in mere moments.

Smith’s first stop is the hall of the novel-writers, where a hundred authors dictate their stories via telephone to an eager audience. Praising one author for his acute observation skills, Smith encourages another to use hypnotism to better capture the complexity of human emotions. He then moves to the reporters’ hall, where 1500 reporters, each equipped with telephones and commutators, relay the news of the world to subscribers, allowing them not only to hear but also see the events as they unfold.

Next, Smith engages with his team of astronomers, discussing the latest phototelegrams from Mercury, Venus, and Mars. He learns of a revolution in Mars’ Central Empire but is frustrated by the lack of communication with Jupiter. He questions his scientific team, challenging their progress and urging them to innovate further. When the topic shifts to the moon, the scientists speculate about the possibility of life on its hidden side, a mystery that intrigues Smith.

In the atmospheric advertising department, Smith finds the operators idle due to clear skies. His solution is pragmatic: he orders the creation of artificial clouds to ensure continuous advertising, reflecting his relentless drive to overcome obstacles. This proactive approach characterizes Smith’s leadership style throughout the day.

Smith’s influence extends beyond his newspaper. In the reception chamber, he mediates a heated discussion between ambassadors, offering strategic counsel and asserting the power of his publication. He dismisses the British ambassador’s plea to campaign for the annulment of Britain’s annexation by the United States, demonstrating his unwavering patriotism and political acumen. Smith’s ability to navigate complex political landscapes underscores his dominance in this futuristic society.

During lunch, Smith dines alone, his meal delivered through tubes from the Grand Alimentation Company. Despite the distance, he enjoys a virtual tête-à-tête with his wife, Edith, who appears on his telephote. They converse briefly, sharing the mundanities of their separate lives before parting again. Smith then embarks on a visit to his accumulator works at Niagara Falls. These works harness the energy of the falls, a testament to the era’s technological prowess and Smith’s entrepreneurial spirit.

The afternoon sees Smith entertaining a series of inventors and visionaries. A young chemist captivates him with a proposal to deconstruct the last three elementary bodies, promising to revolutionize material science. Smith funds the chemist’s research, ever the patron of innovation. Another visionary proposes to transport the city of Granton, transforming it into a coastal resort. Enthralled by the audacity of the plan, Smith invests eagerly.

Later, Smith considers a bold scheme to transform the polar regions into habitable zones by redirecting surplus energy to melt the ice caps. Though intrigued, he asks for a week to review the plans, reflecting his careful consideration of large-scale projects. Finally, a proposal to revive the hibernation experiment of Dr. Nathaniel Faithburn piques his interest. Faithburn had placed himself in suspended animation a hundred years prior, to be revived on this very day.

As evening falls, Smith’s daily audience winds down, but his work continues. He connects to the Central Concert Hall, where maestros perform through algebraic sound patterns, providing a soothing backdrop as he reviews his financials. The arrival of Dr. Wilkins and the scientific committee signals the start of the much-anticipated resurrection experiment.

The room buzzes with anticipation as the scientists prepare Faithburn’s body. Through the telephote, the world watches, breath held, as heat and electricity are applied to the mummified form. Dr. Wilkins examines the body and declares Faithburn dead, a hundred years’ slumber having proven fatal. The failure underscores the limits of even the most advanced technology.

Exhausted, Smith seeks relief in a mechanized bath that arrives at his command. Reflecting on the day’s events, he acknowledges both the incredible advancements and the persistent challenges of his time. As he relaxes, the seamless integration of technology into daily life becomes evident, from meals delivered through tubes to instant global communication and even attempts at reviving the dead. This single day in Fritz Napoleon Smith’s life epitomizes the relentless drive for progress that defines the 29th century.

Main Characters

  • Fritz Napoleon Smith: The central figure, a powerful newspaper editor whose wealth and influence shape global events. He is depicted as a tireless, practical man, deeply involved in the technological and political currents of his time.
  • Edith Smith: Fritz’s wife, who is away in Paris. Her interactions with Fritz via telephote highlight the advanced state of communication technology.
  • Dr. Wilkins: Smith’s physician, who ensures Smith’s health amidst his grueling schedule.
  • Various Journalists and Scientists: They populate Smith’s world, contributing to the “Earth Chronicle” and working on various technological and scientific advancements.

Themes and Motifs

  • Technological Progress: The story is a celebration of human ingenuity and technological advancements. From pneumatic tubes and telephotography to atmospheric advertising and energy accumulators, Verne envisions a future where technology has transformed every aspect of life.
  • Media Influence: The power of the “Earth Chronicle” and its editor underscores the significant role of media in shaping public opinion and political landscapes.
  • Human Ambition and Limitations: Despite the astounding progress, human endeavors still face limitations, as shown by the failed resurrection experiment and the ongoing challenges in interplanetary communication.

Writing Style and Tone

Jules Verne’s writing in “In the Year 2889” is characterized by a tone of awe and fascination with the future. His style is detailed and descriptive, painting a vivid picture of a technologically advanced society. Verne’s narrative is both speculative and instructive, urging readers to contemplate the possibilities and responsibilities that come with scientific progress. The tone is optimistic yet pragmatic, reflecting Verne’s belief in human potential tempered by an understanding of its limitations.

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Categories: Book Summary