Whenever I go a-searching for used science fiction books, I run across several by Philip Jose Farmer. The ones I did find were about space travel and other worlds, but his Steampunk books take place in the alternative past right here at home. But somehow I could never find any in his “Wold Newton” series.
Eventually, I ordered The Other Log of Phileas Fogg online. I was so excited when the new edition arrived at my door, especially because of the sweet airship on the cover. Unfortunately, the dirigible of the futuristic past does not actually make an appearance anywhere in the story! And that is only one of several letdowns.
About the Book
I expected this story to be written like a series of journal entries. Instead, the story is told through the lens of an “expert” interpreting a secret journal. He even goes so far as to correct Verne’s story as much as adding missing pieces.
One thing Farmer does do is give Fogg his missing back-story. According to this book Fogg was the foster son of an alien and learned special abilities. For instance, he can control his negative emotions (even beyond that of a normal British person.) This aids him on his trek and go a long way to explaining the enigmatic Fogg.
For the past two hundred years two alien species have fought right below the noses of the human race. Both sides have lost the ability to reproduce because their numbers are so few and their females dead. To compensate, they take in human foster children like Fogg and Passepartout on one side, and Detective Fix and Captain Nemo on the other.
The aliens have advanced technology to aid their surrogates such as Nemo’s Nautilus. Fogg’s dash around the planet has nothing to do with a wager. Instead, he actually pursues a teleportation device that both sides need for their (apparently same?) plots of benign sublimation for the human race.
What I thought of the Other Log of Phileas Fogg
As I said in my review of the original Around the World in 80 Days, there are many gaps in Verne’s story that are begging to filled. And Farmer was certainly endeavoring to do so. Unfortunately, his approach reminded me of the worst kind of fan fiction. The original story got nit-picked to death and detracted from my enjoyment. For instance, Farmer makes a point of saying something should only take 5 minutes when it took Fogg 10, and harps on the fact that Verne never specifically mentions that Fogg carries a watch.
Rather than offering interesting explanations or insights from the “other log,” Farmer commits that cardinal writing sin: the rhetorical question. There are sometimes 6 or more in a row! Maybe this is just me, but I was always told that an author should never, ever do this. It is considered lazy writing outside of speech-making.
Farmer also makes a point of saying that the book is not a novel, but then writes long stretches of dialog that would never have been recorded in a diary. That means they really have no place in the narrator’s interpretation. I also felt that giving all the credit of the technological advancements to the aliens was a disservice to Verne’s characters and the ingenuity of inventors during the Industrial Revolution.
So in the end, I don’t think I’d recommend this book any more than I would the original. In terms of pure literary delight, it’s a meh. But it is a great example of Steampunk and someone having fun with classic literature of the Victorian era? It certainly meets that goal.