- File Size: 86 KB
- Print Length: 23 pages
- Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
- Publication Date: May 12, 2012
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0082X88XI
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Not Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,733 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
Romans - Volume 3: Micromegas Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
The story involves an alien from the Sirius system named Micromegas who visits Saturn and befriends a fellow philospher. The Saturnian is thousands of feet tall, and Micromegas is hundreds of thousands of feet tall. (Voltaire is following a scientific idea that if a planet is larger, then its inhabitants must be proportionally larger; but I am not sure if he agrees with this idea or if he is mocking it.) Micromegas and the Saturnian complain about how their lives are so short and how they don't have enough physical senses, and there is much humor in the fact that both have much longer lives and many more senses than we earthlings have. They spontaneously decide to take a "philosophical journey" (we would call it a scientific expedition) around the solar system. Voltaire never describes their vessel or explains their method of space-travel, although there is a vague mention of the tail of a comet which is suggested to have something to do with their transportation. Basically all we are told is that they take a bunch of scientific measuring equipment and head towards the sun. They pass Mars because it is too small and decide to land on earth where they nonchalantly eat a couple of mountains as a snack and get their feet wet crossing the oceans. The extraterrestrial exploers try to determine whether Earth has life, and after some difficulty they discover whales. Eventually they pick up a ship from the ocean thinking it is a whale. The humans on the ship are microscopic to the giants, but eventually the giants realize that the humans are there. Soon they learn to communicate with the humans and are convinced that humans are intelligent after learning of their great skill in scientific measurement. The book ends with the humans disagreeing with each other when they try to explain to the visitors philosophical and religious ideas such as the meaning of life. There is much humor when one human quotes Aristotle in the Greek without understanding any of it, and there is even more humor when a Catholic tells the aliens that God created the stars for men's benefit.
As you can see, there is not much of a story here, but it is an entertaining read. If you have ever read Candide or Voltaire's Philosophical Dictionary then you know that Voltaire had a witty and scathing sense of humor. There are a lot of laughs in this short book, both obvious and subtle. I am not sure exactly what Voltaire intended his theme in this book to be, but he is definitely making a point about how small man is in relation to the universe. He praises science while acknowledging its limitations with the occasional in-joke. He pokes fun at the facts that philosophers can never agree with each other, and he mercilessly mocks religion.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in early science fiction and early writings about space travel. I also recommend this to anyone who has read Candide and wants to read another humorous philosophical narrative.
Lastly a few words about the digital formatting. The book is easy to navigate with convenient links in the table of contents. Unfortunately there are extremely annoying footnotes all over the place in inconvenient places. The footnotes were in the 1800s version of the complete works of Voltaire, and are usually about insignificant things like wording changes from one edition to the next. The Kindle version likes to put these footnotes right after the paragraph where the number appears and sometimes right in the paragraph. These footnotes really interrupt the flow of the narrative, and I would give this book 5 stars without them. Also some of the foreign words appear with unreadable symbols, but I do not know if this is due to bad formatting or the inadiquacies of my old iMac. (I read this on Kindle for Mac since I don't own a Kindle.)
Eventually Micromegas comes to Saturn, where he is amused to find the inhabitants only 6,000 feet tall, but being open-minded Micromegas does not disparage their intelligence just because they are dwarfs. He strikes up a friendship with a Saturnian philosopher, and the two set out to explore the other worlds of the solar system. "Carried by the tail of a comet, and finding an aurora borealis at the ready, they started towards it, and arrived at Earth on the northern coast of the Baltic sea, July 5, 1737, new style. After resting for some time they ate two mountains for lunch..."
Micromegas and his diminutive companion circle the Earth on foot in 36 hours, looking for any signs of life. They are about to give up their search, when they spot a tiny form on the ocean--a whale--and this leads to the discovery of a nearby ship. Using their microscopes they see that it is crewed by minuscule men. After listening to their speech for a few minutes, Micromegas and his companion have learned enough French to converse with them and are delighted to discover that there are a number of fellow philosophers on board.
The Frenchmen regale the visiting aliens with the theories of various earthly philosophers, and Locke is found particularly pleasing. But when a cleric steps up to assert with Thomas Aquinas that "their people, their worlds, their suns, their stars, had all been made uniquely for mankind" Micromegas concludes that "the infinitely small had an almost infinitely great pride."
Voltaire's short, brisk satire is not so much directed at any particular government or institution as against close-mindedness, bigotry, nationalism and cultural arrogance. It has lost none of its relevance and is a delight to read.