Knowing that the science was dated by
a century and a half allowed me to read the book without judging that
quality. Instead, I found myself in awe of the amount of research that
the author must have gone through in order to create the story. The
technical details, while often wrong by our knowledge and even sometimes
by the knowledge of the time, were astounding. The characters didn’t
have much character, and most of the book is two or more characters
talking to each other to hear themselves talk, I think. But through the
details and the unintentional hilarities (like opening the hatch in
space), and in spite of the way it drags on in the middle, I quite
I vaguely recall reading one
other Jules Verne novel when I was very young, 20000 Leagues Under the
Sea, but I don't recall anything about how it was written. I wonder how
different this book is, as both present dangers from the natural
environment, but this one is, I believe, a lot more intellectual.
From the first chapter, I was struck by how detailed and how
meticulously researched this book is. There are many mistakes in the
physics, not only due to how immature the understanding of the day was,
but those can easily be overlooked.
The book takes place soon
after the American Civil War, where the gun club has nothing to build guns for. The author really takes the American stereotype to the
extreme. I liked the way he contrasted, for a time, the gun builders
with the sheet metal producers, who created obstructions to the bullets
fired by these guns.
The essence of the book is to build a new
type of gun, one that can send a projectile to the Moon. They do an
international group fundraising effort, and after a search of the
southern states (at this time there are only thirty-five states!) to
eventually settle on Florida. The choice was made because there were
several cities in competition in Texas, but only Tampa City in Florida.
A funny way to make a decision, but it puts the spaceport close to Cape
Canaveral of present day.
While the book takes place in two
parts, it's really one story, as the first one ends with a strange
report that the projectile missed the Moon, and the second one starts by
saying it wasn't true, but in fact it was! The first story has two parts
to it, one being the technical part, which was interesting, and a great
insight into the authors of the day. Fantasy and science fiction didn't
really exist, so it must have been necessary to convince the public that
such a thing was possible. The technical details were vital in making it
convincing. It reminded me of a short story by Isaac Asimov, which
pretended to be a scientific paper.
In addition to the technical
details, the main characters love to hear themselves speak. They go on
about everything and anything, from their guns to the barrel size, to
the apparent inhabitants of the Moon itself. When Major Nichol arrives,
head of the company that produces metal armor, the two talk themselves
into a gun duel. Fortunately, both men are distracted by the beauty in
the Florida forest (thankfully they didn't encounter any alligators)
that they do not complete the duel, and are stopped by their companions.
I found Michel Ardan, the Frenchman, to be a very strange
fellow, and he makes the most illogical argument, convincing the skeptic
Nichol to join them on the capsule to the Moon. If Nichol really didn't
believe it was possible to go to the Moon, then why would he ever
Ardan convinced Barbicane to fill the projectile with
air, a little furnace, and all the amenities of a cruise ship, in order
that he could travel to the Moon and be the ambassador from Earth.
Barbicane himself was also convinced to go.
The second part of
the book, Around the Moon, was a little more tiresome. There was no real
technical information to absorb, and the entire book, except for the
last chapter, takes place inside the capsule. There isn't much to
discuss, except the hypothetical lifeforms, the incorrect "fact" that
there is oxygen in the valleys, and the apparent volcanism of the Lunar
interior. All the while, the passengers continue to cook in a gas
firepit, enjoy the company of their dog, and throw waste outside the
capsule through the hatch -easy as if they were actually on a cruise
ship. I did like the fact that the garbage followed them, as it would,
having no friction to drag it away; but that novelty disappeared before
they reached the moon.
Their observations of the Moon were interesting, but not
spectacular. It's as if the author didn't want to harm his reputation in
case something should turn out to be incorrect. In fact, it's the only
observation that he makes that is incorrect -active volcanoes on the
Moon. On the far side, where the observers could see nothing except
blackness, they observe a red fire -a volcano erupting. That debate went
on until the Apollo Moon landings, so I'm not surprised to see it here
presented as fact.
One thing that seemed strange to me was the
author's claim that the University got the required speed of launch
incorrect, and attributing it to the water they used to absorb the
launch jolt. I would attribute it more to the added weight of all the
life on board, from humans to dogs to chickens, and the stove, freezer,
couches, and everything else. The speed was never revised from when it
was supposed to be an empty shell.
They also never attribute
their altered trajectory to the asteroid they encountered minutes into
their launch. Here, it's a false satellite of Earth that somebody
thought they observed back in the 1800s, but it could have just as
easily been a near-Earth asteroid in our day and age.
capsule misses the Moon, and takes a free-return trajectory back to
Earth. Like Apollo 13, the point of view changes from those on the
capsule to those on Earth. In this case, it's a deep-sea sounding ship,
getting ready to lay telegraph cables, that encounters the returning
capsule. I was very skeptical that it could survive such a plunge, and
that it could survive being so far under water for the length of time it
took to get J.T. Maston of the Gun Club and the proper equipment to haul
it out of the water. But being such a huge object, made of aluminum with
such a volume of displacement, it floated. I didn't do the math, but it
seems that panic allowed the geniuses of this society to neglect that,
I enjoyed the technical discussion, but it got too
repetitive and fanciful for my tastes in the second half of the book.
The first one was more to my interest, as it described getting
everything together for the big launch.