Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

Any fan of Jules Verne’s Around The World In Eighty Days (1872) should enjoy Philip José Farmer’s The Other Log Of Phileas Fogg (1973).  Verne’s classic features Phileas Fogg, an English gentleman who makes a bet that he can travel around the world in eighty days.  A century later this storyline is rejuvenated with the science fiction plot of Fogg as a human agent of the Eridaneans, an alien race at war with the Capalleans.  The other log’s intrigue mirrors the 1970s Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union with its international spies, mysterious orders, and double agents.  Fogg becomes the 19th Century equivalent of James Bond who must outwit the notorious Capallean, Captain Nemo.

Farmer’s 20th-century mash-up takes Verne’s fiction and claims that it is based upon the public log of Mr. Fogg.  Whereas Verne begins his story with “Mr. Phileas Fogg lived, in 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens, the house in which Sheridan died in 1814,” Farmer fills in historical details from The Other Log Of Phileas Fogg:
“This house, as everybody knows, was once occupied by the famous and witty but penniless playwright and member of Parliament, Richard Brinsley Sheridan.  He died in distressing circumstances in 1816, not in 1814, as Verne says.”

And it is in this house that Mr. Fogg’s “other log was not known until 1947.”  And thanks to Farmer, through various means he is able to decipher it and insists “this is not a novel but a reconstruction of a true story...”

Farmer’s novel becomes a retelling of Around The World In Eighty Days but with more detail, and additional adventures.  It engages the reader with many questions, such as whether or not Fogg could be clairvoyant. 

The other log begins with Fogg being circumspect in his own home since it might be bugged with Capallean listening devices.  This is an alternate explanation for his exacting behaviours.  His new valet, Passepartout, is also an Eridanean agent assigned to him.  The chief, giving both men their orders, is none other than Stuart from the Reform Club.  In the original story he is simply one of the gentlemen who makes the bet with Fogg, but in the other log we find that Stuart’s name clues Fogg into his true rank: 

“Stuart is derived from ‘steward,‘ one who manages.  And Stuart was an engineer in both a public and a private sense.  He was, in fact, Fogg’s superior, for all Fogg knew, the head of the entire Eridanean Race...”

Their mode of communication is brilliant - the card game of whist.  When Stuart lays down the jack of diamonds, “it meant that diamonds would be trumps.  To Fogg it was an order to bet, to take a dare, though not with the cards.  What bet, what dare?  That depended on Stuart’s conversation and Fogg’s ability to interpret.”

The bet, of course, is Fogg going Around The World In Eighty Days, which in fact is a secret mission.  Throughout the rest of The Other Log Of Phileas Fogg alternate explanations are given for events that happened in Verne’s original account.  Even Aouda, Fogg’s love interest, turns out to be an Eridanean agent.

Farmer’s entertaining plot is even more reminiscent of the nuclear weapons that defined the Cold War.  All-out war never happened given the possibility of mutually assured destruction.  For the Eridaneans and Capalleans, their war revolves around the alien transport devices known as distorters.  Each side does everything possible to destroy these devices or gain more of them.  While on his world-wide tour Fogg goes after the rajah of Bundelcund, a rogue Capallean, to destroy his distorter.  Nemo and Fogg then have several confrontations in order to acquire the rare and valuable devices.  Even Passepartout’s famous watch that always kept London time is, in fact, a distorter.  If one side loses all of its distorters, then it will lose the war.

In the end, Nemo gets Passepartout’s watch, perhaps the last Eridanean distorter.  What happens next?  Only Farmer’s “true story” will tell you.

For the reader who enjoys the retelling of a classic tale, this novel is just one of many in the Wold Newton canon.  A detailed chronology in the Afterword gives an explanation for the connection between Farmer’s other Wold Newton stories.  Moreover, there is another Afterword in which Win Scott Eckert, a coauthor of Farmer’s last novel The Evil in Pemberley House (2009), speculates that Philip José Farmer might be the great-great grandson of Phileas Fogg.  Why else would Farmer end the other log with:

“That Phileas Fogg’s intitials and your editor’s are the same is, I assure you, only a coincidence.”

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