Friday, September 27, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- From the Earth to the Moon & Around the Moon

Today we have a double-header: Jules Verne's novel From the Earth to the Moon and the sequel, Around the Moon. Both are available in one handy compilation.

The story takes place in the years following the Civil War. The Baltimore, Maryland-based Gun Club is composed of men who developed artillery during said war, but now that it's over, they find themselves without purpose. They need some sort of project to devote their energy towards. Fortunately, the Club's president, Barbicane, has just the solution this all-American organization needs. One day he calls a meeting to announce the construction of an enormous canon to fire a projectile at the moon. Why? To establish contact with any possible inhabitants (called Selenites) of our satellite, of course. The whole world goes crazy over this idea, and every nation pledges money to help fund the project. Working with astronomy experts, the Gun Club settles on Tampa Town, Florida as the site to build the canon (which will be 900 feet long, dug into the earth). 

You may be thinking that this idea is insane. But just wait; it gets even nuttier. Soon a French scientist (though in reality more of a poet) named Michel Ardan writes the Gun Club, telling them of his intention to ride inside the projectile all the way to the moon. Even the generally open-minded Barbicane is taken aback at this ludicrous idea. After all, Ardan admits he knows nothing about science! Nevertheless, despite stiff opposition from Barbicane's rival, Captain Nicholl (who designs armor so he hates people who design things to smash armor), the eccentric Frenchman's idea is soon adopted, and the projectile is re-designed as a sort of capsule. Despite some doubts as to whether this endeavor can work or is even safe, the projectile is launched on December 1 at 10:48 p.m. Does anyone survive the flight?

Around the Moon picks up where the first book left off. Barbicane, Ardan, Nicholl and a host of animals (some of which Ardan smuggled aboard) are still alive following the launch of the projectile. They've basically made their home inside this giant bullet, filling it with gas (yes, they burn gas in space), food, water and oxygen. They are happy at first, but soon a rogue piece of space rock affects their trajectory, sending them off course. Seemingly unable to reach the moon, they are stuck staring at it and speculating on its possible atmosphere and inhabitants. Are they doomed to die a cold, lonely death in space?

These books are astonishing because of the ridiculous amount of science Verne brought to the table. He's constantly introducing new facts, ideas and mathematical equations. In fact, the second book gets so bogged down in science if becomes difficult to get through. I'm amazed at all the research he did for these two novels. Of course, not everything he wrote was correct (the moon does not have an atmosphere or vegetables, and burning gas aboard a space ship is a bad idea), but the things he was able to predict is astonishing. Using rockets for maneuvering a space vehicle; recycling air; bathyspheres; space capsules; the founding of the NASA space center in Florida. Verne predicted so many things it's scary.

I also appreciate Verne's sense of humor. Character such as Michel Ardan and J.T. Maston are delightful oddballs, and it's funny how he portrays Americans. To him, we evidently were a brash people who didn't let things like safety and common sense get in the way of doing something awesome for our country. The members of the Gun Club, in particular, echo today's stereotypical Republicans. They love guns and America to a degree that cannot possibly be considered healthy.

Therefore, if you're a sci-fi fan who appreciates the classics and has a sense of humor, you owe it to yourself to read From the Earth to the Moon & Around the Moon.

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