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A NOVEL WITH A TIMELY MESSAGE

In what sounds like a literary device, an unpublished novel by French author Jules Verne has been uncovered in a safe passed down through his family. Although Verne wrote "Paris in the 20th Century" around 1863, the year in which his publisher rejected it, the work is remarkable for its pinpoint prophecies.

The author of such rousing jaunts as "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "From the Earth to the Moon" is anything but merry as his Parisian hero describes a world in which gas-powered cars, monorails, mainframe computers, music synthesizers and fax machines (described as "photographic telegraphs") fail to delight a society that has traded culture for mere gizmos. In a place of universal literacy, hardly anyone reads, and people are miserable because "in their hurried walk, their rushed bearing, one felt the demon of money was driving them without respite or mercy."Fidgeting, are we?

It's a pity that Verne's publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, spiked the book. Otherwise, his prescient client might have warned us about the dehumanizing aspects of an ultra-tech world just as George Orwell alerted us to the totalitarian nightmare in "1984."

But what's done is done. And as the latest must-have super-duper device calls out for acquisition, maintenance and eventual servitude, the only consoling thought is this: The future is our book to write.