From The Earth To The Moon (Jules Verne)

What makes From the Earth to the Moon so enjoyable is it’s sheer earnestness. Entire chapters are filled with debates about figures and equations. Verne loves to write about all the details of his little thought experiment. This is very clearly his fantasy, and had he the money, I could imagine him attempting something like this. There are some charming details. For example, they launch from southern Florida, which at the time was a large swamp with forts to guard against the indians. Also, when packing their capsule for provisions, they load up 50 gallons of brandy, because that’s how a gentleman spaceman travels. 

At times, this book plays with satire. Some of his speculations are so ridiculous and at the same time so accurate that I had to cringe. Naturally, he assumes that the Americans will achieve this goal (+1 for Verne). Verne loves Americans! They can accomplish anything, don’t know the meaning of the word “impossible”, are all highly learned, and despise royalty in all its forms. It’s like if de Tocqueville wrote a Sci Fi novel. The Americans talk about scientific discoveries, but that is not their true goal. Verne writes, “As for the Yankees, they had no other ambition than to take possession of this new continent of the sky, and to plant upon the summit of its highest elevation the Star-Spangled Banner of the United States of America.” (+2 for Verne)

Once the Civil War has ended the members of the Baltimore Gun Club are without a purpose; they have been busy improving weaponry during the war. Their president, Impey Barbicane, has a compelling idea, however. They will build a giant cannon and send a projectile to the moon! The fourth of the Extraordinary Voyages series, this was first published in 1865. That was 104 years before the USA actually did send a man to the moon, and it’s interesting to read the “science” and compare Verne’s suppositions with what actually happened in 1969.

Verne populates the novel with a colorful cast of characters. The members of the Gun Club are mostly veterans, and many had been severely injured on the battlefield: “Pitcairn calculated that in the Gun club there was not quite one arm for every four men, and only one leg for every three.” But these men are hardly disabled; they have the courage of their convictions and nothing will deter them from achieving their goals. There’s a great deal of humour in the interactions between the characters, as they argue among themselves what properties the cannon and projectile will have and where and when the launch will take place.

This is a fun tale, though I admit to skimming over much of the scientific calculations. It’s easy to see why these Extraordinary Voyages have remained popular for over a century. His almost accurate predictions were based on intelligent observations and imaginations. Jules Verne was truly someone who was ahead of his age. However, it ends abruptly. The entire thing is about the construction of the great cannon that will fire the explorers to the moon. After launching them, there’s one chapter wondering what’s become of them, then it ends. Apparently there’s a sequel that some editions bundle together with this book, and I can see why. On it’s own, it’s only half completed. Even if he was wrong, I can’t fault him for trying.

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