13 April 2017

Review: The Twentieth Century by Albert Robida

Hardcover, 397 pages
Published 2004 (originally 1882)
Borrowed from the library
Read August 2013
The Twentieth Century by Albert Robida

This is one of those futuristic novels that doesn't have a story per se, but is more an exploration/travelogue of a fantastic future. It's a mix of utopianism and satire and deadly warnings-- some things are awesome, other things less so (emancipated women are so un-feminine they even have harsh names!), and other things are just supposed to be funny (the president is an automaton, which I feel like is the nineteenth-century equivalent of Futurama's disembodied heads). There's sky pirates and telephonic courtship and attempts at a fun revolution, but Nihilist bombings destroyed Russia so utterly there's neither Nihilists nor Russians anymore, and Italy has become a theme park for American tourists. There are also air-wars, but they seem more exciting than frightening.

Sometimes long-winded (seriously, very long), but the real highlight is that Robida illustrated it himself, so you get to see his fun futurism brought to life in a lively fashion on page after page. The text translated here is from the first French edition, but editor Arthur B. Evans selected illustrations from every edition in order to get the best set possible. More fun to look at than to read, but then, Robida was more illustrator than novelist.

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