Ossus Library Index
Science Fiction Index


A novel by Jules Verne
(190x, A.L. Burt)
[original copyright 1865]

When the president of the Gun Club decides to shoot a projectile to the Moon, he encounters great enthusiasm and a passenger willing to make the journey, which doesn't go quite as planned once in space.


-- First reading (hardcover)
September 16th to 28th, 2017


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 enjoyed it.

Spoiler review:

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 accept?

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.

The 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, too.

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.


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