Classic Book Review: Master of the World (1904)

master-of-the-worldI’m still slowly working my way through the classic science fiction works, but I recently found this short little book in a used book store and added it to the old “to be read” pile. After reading some other works of Verne I was, shall we say, underwhelmed by this much-lauded author, in a large part because they seemed to go on interminably. I’d hoped that Master of None would appeal to me more because it is so much shorter than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but alas, it left me wanting more, and not in a good way.

In brief, it is the story of a strange vehicle and its many sightings. Somehow, people report seeing something that moves faster than any known machine, and they see it on land, sea, and the air.

I didn’t know until after I had finished it that this was in fact a sequel to a 1886 release entitled Robur the Conqueror, and perhaps if I had read the first book I’d have liked Master of the World more, but honestly, I doubt it. I don’t know if it is just a matter of translation and the higher frequency of the passive voice in French, or if it is a failure of my modern sensibility to be tickled by this old style of writing, but as a story described on the cover as a suspense/thriller I found it rather dull and predictable. I know the mad scientist bent on using his genius to bully mankind into betterment for no particular reason was still pretty new in Verne’s day, but he’d already been-there, done-that 30 years earlier with his most famous character, Captain Nemo.

On top of that, the was ending struck me as both abrupt and bizarre, and the whole tone of the story felt melancholy and hopeless about the future of humankind. One critic I read speculated that this was due to Verne’s failing health and dour disposition in his twilight years, but whatever the reason I wouldn’t say I’d recommend this one.


  1. Good morning, Phoebe. I very much concur with your thoughts on The Master, and have been castigated on occasion for not bowing at the altar. As a young boy, I grew up watching those fabulous 50s and 60s movie treatments, and went through life thinking in my young naivete that those were the stories Verne had written. Then, just a few years ago, I was given a 10-pound doorstop called Seven Novels by Jules Verne. I was thrilled! The novels included ran from 1863’s Five Weeks in a Balloon to 1874’s The Mysterious Island, and were touted as the most accurate translation possible, even including footnotes to explain when the French word didn’t translate precisely into English.

    Worst slog ever! As a steampunk author, I always felt lacking because I hadn’t read the original works, and was determined to make the most of this opportunity. Well, from the African travelogue of Five Weeks to the Pacific island survival manual of Mysterious Island, the only thing I found thrilling was my fight to stay awake. It’s good to have it on my resume and to be able to speak on the subject with the voice of experience, but I’d rather wrestle an anaconda than endure it again. My take: I think, though he himself denied it, that Verne was more of a futurist than a pure science fiction writer. He looked at the accelerating industrial revolution gathering momentum all around him, and tried to project what the future might be like in consequence. His success in that will be argued for as long as there are scholars, but as a modern reader, I didn’t find his archaic style nor his choices in the presentation to be at all entertaining.

    I must say that I really enjoyed your presentation of the subject. You appeared on my radar fairly recently, and having now discovered you, I’m going to pay a bit more attention to your blog. Thanks for this exploration of a work that most Americans associate with a Vincent Price movie; I’ll be back soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for stopping by! I had a similar experience when I’ve read classic ghost and vampire stories from that era as well. They weren’t scary at all, more like morality tales that had little to offer out of context. The craft of writing has come a long way in terms of building suspense and engagement with readers! Of course, this has led to even more discerning readers, but that is our challenge as writers to overcome 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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