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Anarchists take to the air in Jules Verne's Robur the Conqueror (1886)

Jules Verne's Robur the ConquerorRobur-the-Conqueror is a science fiction novel by Jules Verne published in 1886. It is also known as The Clipper of the Clouds. It has a sequel, The Master of the World, which was published in 1904.

The story begins with strange lights and sounds, including blaring trumpet music, reported in the skies all over the world. The events are capped by the mysterious appearance of black flags with gold suns atop tall historic landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. These events are all the work of the mysterious Robur (the specific epithet for English Oak, Quercus robur, and figuratively taken to mean "strength"), a brilliant inventor who intrudes on a meeting of a flight-enthusiast's club called the Weldon Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Members of the Weldon Institute are all firm believers that mankind shall master the skies using “lighter than air” craft, and that "heavier than air" craft such as airplanes and helicopters would be unfeasible. The institute has been constructing a giant dirigible called the Goahead, and are having a heated discussion of where to place its propeller (in front to pull it, or behind to push it) when Robur appears at the meeting and is admitted to speak to them. He chastises the group for being balloon-boosters when "heavier than air" flying apparatuses are the future. When asked if Robur himself has "made conquest of the air," he states that he has, leading to him accepting the title "Robur the Conqueror." During his short time at the Weldon Institute Robur so incenses the members that they chase him outside and are about to attack him. Robur then seemingly vanishes to the mob, but he has actually been borne away in a flying machine.

Later that night Robur kidnaps the Weldon Institute's secretary, president, and the president’s valet. He takes them on board his ship, a huge rotorcraft vessel called the Albatross which has many vertical propellers so as to operate similar to a helicopter, and horizontal propellers to provide lateral movement. It bears the same black flag with golden sun that has been sighted on so many landmarks, and the music in the sky is explained to be one of the crewmen playing a trumpet. To demonstrate the vessel's superiority, Robur takes his captives around the world in the course of three weeks. The president and secretary are angry at Robur for kidnapping them and unwilling to admit that the Albatross is a fantastic vessel, or that their notions of "lighter than air" superiority are wrong. They demand that Robur release them, but he is aloof and always says that they shall remain as long as he desires it. Fearing they will be held captive forever, the two formulate plans to both escape and destroy the Albatross.

After the horizontal propellers are damaged in a storm, the Albatross is anchored over the Chatham Islands for repairs. While the crew is busy at work the two Weldon Institute members light a fuse and make their escape. They try to bring the valet with them but can not find him, only later discovering that the coward had escaped already without them. The Albatross explodes and its wreckage, along with Robur and his crew, plunge into the ocean. Meanwhile the three escapees are safe on a small but inhabited island and are later rescued by a ship, then make a long journey back to Philadelphia.

The Weldon Institute members return and rather than describe their adventures or admit that Robur had created a flying machine greater than their expectations of the Goahead, they simply conclude the argument the group was having during their last meeting. Rather than have only one propeller to their dirigible, they decide to have one propeller in front and another behind similar to Robur's design. Seven months after their return the Goahead is completed and making its maiden voyage with the president, secretary, and an aeronaut. The speed and maneuverability of the dirigible marvels a huge crowd, but are trivial if compared to Robur’s Albatross. Suddenly, out of the sky there appears the Albatross. It is revealed that when the Albatross exploded, enough of it was intact so that at least some of the propellers operated and slowed its descent, saving the crew. The crew used the remains of the Albatross as a raft until they were rescued by a ship. Later, Robur and the crew made it back to his secret X Island, where the original Albatross was built. Robur has built a new Albatross and now intends to exact revenge by showing it is superior to the Weldon Institute’s Goahead.

As an earthbound crowd watches in horror, the Albatross completes several moves, nearly ramming the Goahead. Fearing it is under attack, the Goahead makes horizontal, then vertical, maneuvers to avoid being hit. The Goahead is obviously at the Albatross’s mercy, however, as the Goahead is too slow. The Goahead then ascends very high into the sky in the hope of losing the Albatross, but its balloon bursts. As it falls the Albatross matches its speed and saves the occupants.

Having shown his dominance of the skies, Robur returns the three men to the ground and says that nations are not yet fit to know his secrets. He leaves with the promise that someday he will reveal his secrets of flight.

Download this book for free at the links below:

ePub format (for Nook and other eBook readers)
Jules Verne - Robur the Conqueror.epub

Amazon Kindle format
Jules Verne - Robur the Conqueror.mobi

Plain text
Jules Verne - Robur the Conqueror.txt

MP3 Audiobook
http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/8980

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Comment by Timothy W. Nieberding on September 25, 2010 at 7:34am
Maybe Robur was right!!

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