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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Meteor Hunt

Jules Verne

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To purchase The Meteor Hunt

Title: The Meteor Hunt
Author: Jules Verne
Genre: Novel
Written: (1908) (Eng. 2006)
Length: 231 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Meteor Hunt - US
The Meteor Hunt - UK
The Meteor Hunt - Canada
La Chasse au météore - Canada
The Meteor Hunt - India
La Chasse au météore - France
Die Jagd nach dem Meteor - Deutschland
La caza del meteoro - España
  • French title: La Chasse au météore
  • The original posthumous French edition (1908) was what the editors of this volume call a "semi-forgery" by Verne's son, Michel; this text restores the version to Verne's original intentions (first printed in France in 1986, and the basis of the 2002 L'Archipel edition)
  • Translated and edited Frederick Paul Walter and Walter James Miller
  • With a Foreword and Afterword, and an Appendix on 'Michel Verne as Editor and Reviewer' by the editors, as well as a annotated bibliography
  • Previously translated as The Chase of the Golden Meteor by Frederick Lawton (1909); re-published as The Hunt for the Meteor in a version edited by I.O.Evans (1965)

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Our Assessment:

B : has its charms, but quite limited

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Meteor Hunt was not published during Jules Verne's lifetime, and has long been known only in the version his son, Michel, published in 1908 (on which the previous English translation was based). As the language the editors of this new edition use about this suggest -- "fraudulent pastiche"; "grotesque distortion " --, Michel Verne's editorial interference made for a rather different book; this 2006 translation now brings a true(r)-to-the-original version to English-speaking readers. (This version also includes some editorial fiddling, as Verne's manuscript wasn't entirely print-ready, but most of it seems to be well-documented in the endnotes.)
       The Meteor Hunt is an odd piece of work, and not your typical Verneian fare. There is a whiff of science fiction -- a meteor circling the earth and then coming crashing down -- but little that is futuristic and only a limited amount of adventure. Instead, the novel is surprisingly domestic. Much of The Meteor Hunt is set in the fictional town of Whaston, Virginia, on the shores of the Potomac, and it opens with a chapter in which two strangers to the town, Seth Stanfort and Arcadia Walker, come to get married by the local judge -- not even bothering to dismount from the horses they separately arrive on for the ceremony. The newly wed Stanforts more or less ride of into the sunset, but reappear again over the course of the novel: back in town, to get divorced -- both inveterate travelers, they found themselves constantly pulled in differing directions and hence decided they were incompatible after all -- , and then at the site of the meteor-crash, to which both are drawn, making for a happy reunion and the realization that perhaps they are meant to be together.
       However, the central characters in the novel are Dean Forsyth and Dr.Stanley Hudelson and the members of their respective households. Forsyth and Hudelson are both well-to-do and have enough wealth to live in comfort and while away much of their time indulging in something that fascinates them both: looking to the skies. Hobby astronomers, they take their sky-observing very seriously, and despite being good friends there's also a "definite rivalry" between them about these matters of this great beyond.
       Forsyth's nephew, Francis Gordon, and Hudelson's daughter, Jenny, are engaged and set to be married that summer -- but a meteor comes between them. Both men observe it from their respective observatories, and immediately notify the appropriate authorities -- one the Pittsburgh Observatory, the other the Cincinnati Observatory -- about their findings, each laying claim to having discovered the object. They become obsessed by it, spending all their time trying to find it again -- and then become increasingly competitive, each wanting sole credit for the find.
       Matters get even more complicated when the meteor turns out to be circling the earth, in a lower and lower orbit. It becomes clear that it will eventually crash to earth -- and everyone wants a piece of it when it becomes clear that the meteor is made of solid gold. All this finds Forsyth and Hudelson becoming sworn enemies -- and the plans for the wedding going down the drain, much to the chagrin of the young couple (and of the bride-to-be's teenage sister, Loo).
       When the location of the earth-strike is determined, Forsyth and his nephew, as well as Hudelson book passage to be on site when it happens. They still hope to lay claim to the find, but greater powers pretty much laugh that off, and their shared fairly hopeless position finally begins to bring them together again -- with the fate of the meteor providing the final shove.
       Verne does have some fun with the gold-meteor -- noting that it would prove to be only a partial bounty: the enormous amount of gold suddenly flooding the market would drive down its value, and: "it wouldn't be worth any more than the grains of sand on a beach !" as one character exaggerates slightly. There's also the quickly convened international commission that tries to settle how the meteor is to be handled and who has the rights to it. For a while, the areas where it might land are known -- involving countries from all around the world -- but they can't come to an agreement, and so it's winner-take-all in the meteor-lottery. Surprisingly, there's little show of military might: once the locale of the meteor-strike is determined the winning country doesn't immediately dispatch a huge security force to safeguard the coming treasure, nor do any foreign powers mobilize to make a grab for it.
       The science is a bit iffy regarding much of the meteor-story, and so also when it lands, the great heat it gives off keeping everyone at a (rather too) good distance for a while; unrealistically, the meteor does not cool rapidly. Disappointingly, too, Verne uses the meteor largely just as a convenient object to build his story around, keeping the story focused on the relationships -- between the two competing households, meant to be united by marriage, as well as the on-again, off-again Stanforts. Once it has served its purpose -- or in order to fully serve its purpose -- he dispenses with the meteor entirely, which feels rather too convenient.
       The Meteor Hunt has its charms in its presentation of the two obsessed men, and the fall-out of their single-minded pursuits on their families. It's hardly a realistic depiction, and too quickly drawn to be really convincing, but Verne handles the supporting cast quite nicely, and from the housekeeper to the younger sister manages some entertaining reactions to the changing situation. The dispute, over who was first, seems rather overblown -- and entirely out of proportion to the more interesting issues the meteor raises, from its potential effect on the world economy, if salvageable, to the question of ownership. While quite charmingly related, Verne does not explore many of the issues or characters sufficiently, leaving The Meteor Hunt as rather a light entertainment.
       The Meteor Hunt is not helped greatly by the translation either, which -- like the otherwise useful endnotes -- tries far too hard for a folksy tone. In their supporting material Walter and Miller do offer some helpful guidance, and their emphasis on this being a book about marriage -- and a reflection of Verne's own attitudes, informed by his experiences -- is interesting, but they also stretch the point rather more than, as presented, the material can bear, with questions such as: "Does the bachelor Forsyth compensate for his celibacy by staying glued to his telescope, an obvious phallic symbol ?"
       While it is certainly good to have this version of Verne's book available in English -- though it would probably have been preferable to have a true, clean edition, without the small emendations and changes (including such things as the measurements, made more American-friendly) -- The Meteor Hunt remains relatively minor Verne.

- M.A.Orthofer, 12 September 2014

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The Meteor Hunt: Reviews: Jules Verne: Other books by Jules Verne under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jules Verne (1828-1905) is one of the bestselling writers of all time.

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