Jules Verne Looks at Wind

By Paul Gipe

Jules Verne’s long lost novel “Paris in the 20th Century” contains an interesting passage on windmills by the father of science fiction. Set in the 1960s, a mere 100 years into the future when Verne wrote the book in 1863, Verne describes hydrogen-powered “gas cars” using internal combustion (after Lenoir’s invention but long before Daimler’s auto in 1889) electric lighting, and possibly one of the earliest references to the use of electricity for execution, questionably more humane than the Guillotine.

Though prescient in some ways, Verne’s recently published book missed the central role of electricity in modern life. Instead, he envisioned a system of compressed air that performed many of the functions electricity does today. This compressed air was pumped into and stored in Paris’ catacombs by “1,853 windmills established on the plains of Montrogue” outside the city.

Verne provides no further discussion of the windmills but uses the business combine that has monopolized the compressed air system, like today’s utility monopolies (EDF in the French context), as one of the novel’s bureaucratic protagonists.

It’s interesting that in the mid-nineteenth century at least one European literary figure could envision a future where wind farms of thousands of wind machines powered entire cities.

Paris au XXe Siecle, Jules Verne (Paris: Hachette 1994), ISBN 2 011 235118 2, 216 pages, paperback.