Review: The secrets of The Other Log of Phileas Fogg
Titan recently re-released Philip Jose Farmer’s alternate history sci-fi adventure novel, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, an obscure novel, which has not seen a printing for nearly forty years.
The book is part of a story world called the Wold Newton universe, which has, as its central premise that in 1795, a meteor crashed to earth near Wold Newton, Yorkshire.
It was observed by a handful of people who were permiated by the ‘ionization’ given off by the space rock. This handful of people turn out to be unaffected themselves, but their children become who we know today as the great literary heroes of the early 1800’s: Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, etc.
In addition, two alien races who crashed to earth about a century and a half earlier are embroiled in a secret war in which some of these extraordinary folk become entangled.
The Other Log specifically retells the story of the 19th century novel by Jules Verne, Around the World in 80 Days within the Wold Newton universe. The narrator of the book posits that Verne didn’t quite know everything about what was going on.
Fogg, the protagonist from Around the World in 80 Days, is an operative from one of the alien factions, The Eridaneans. His persnickety eccentricities are a clever disguise, rather than an inherent weirdness in himself. As a human operative, he’s been given an elixir which grants him at least a thousand years of life – barring mishap, so he must be careful with his disguises and relationships.
Fogg’s mission is to retrieve a dangerous teleportation device from the hands of his enemies, and to get this done, he must play along with what looks to the world like a grand wager among wealthy eccentrics. The high-tech balloon ride around the world is a great chase which brings Fogg up against a malevolent force, an agent of the enemy: Captain Nemo, who is also Professor James Moriarty.
The story is quite cleverly told, and stands up to the test of time much more than I expected, having never read it before now, myself – understandable, considering it’s been out of print since a decade before my birth. Expecting old conventions and tropes of science-fiction from 50 years ago, I found instead a very original tale with a compelling cleverness I’ve seen only rarely in fiction either modern or among Farmer’s contemporaries.
The world-building here is exemplary. This much I knew to expect from reading some of Farmer’s other works which are still in print, though those are typically fantasy worlds, rather than alternate history. Here he creates a version of our own world in which these supernatural additions make a certain sense, and the way he draws the elements from existing classic literature is seamless. He’s taken the characters and situation of 1800’s adventure novels - this novel has more elements and characters than just those of 80 Days; it also includes bits from the Sherlock Holmes stories, 20,000 Leages Under the Sea, and some real historical mysteries - and joined them together like a jigsaw puzzle that no one knew needed assembly.
The characters are mostly compelling, but the protagonist is a place where some readers might get bogged by the work. Fogg himself is nearly a blank slate. He’s intelligent, and righteous, and in a few places endearing, but he has no flaws other than a certain stiffness, and that stiffness permeates his entire being, and even the narrator of the tale, as it’s supposedly being derived from Fogg’s secret journal.
Though not gratuitous, this stiffness but be off-putting to some readers, but to those who are willing to push through the occasionally too solid exterior of the narrative, it’s an incredibly rewarding tale. The conclusion is rousing, more so than the original 80 Days, and one cannot help but to want to dive much deeper into the Wold Newton novels, if nothing else than to learn more about this world he’s constructed, and the mystery of the Cappelian / Eridanean conflict.
Overall, it’s an incredibly intelligent sci-fi novel, not to be missed by any serious reader, especially if you already know that you enjoy Philip Jose Farmer’s work.
The Other Log of Phileas Fogg is available now from Titan Books.