From The Earth To The Moon (1865)

– Written By Jules Verne

I felt half tempted to start up a drinking game while I was reading this work of speculative fiction. Aware of the current state of spaceflight, I was fascinated by this fictional account of a time before the rocket had even been conceived of, much less been invented. Throughout the reading, I unconsciously tallied what Jules Verne got right and what he got wrong.

The premise of the book is that a club whose artillery hobby has been rendered irrelevant by the end of the Civil War seeks a new application for their knowledge. So, they begin an endeavor to construct a cannon capable of launching a shell to the moon. Along the way we get a glimpse of what sort of society would embark on such a project.

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). However we do so for the sake of our own egos. 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.” Yeah… (+2 for Verne)

The early chapters deal with the science and mechanics of reaching the moon, which honestly did not interest me very much. I have no doubt that the fancies of the original readers were tickled by this speculation but it’s terribly dated now. Although considering the time some of the measurements are surprisingly accurate. I found myself skipping through pages and pages of calculations to read the fun human-centric writing.

The competition between Texas and Florida to be the site of the cannon is hilarious. Eventually though it is decided that Tampa Town in Florida would become the home of the behemoth. (Kennedy Space Center is located on Cape Canaveral but close enough, +3 for Verne) Funding is sought from foreign entities. Russia being highly interested in scientific advancements donates the most to the U.S. –snort, yeah right!- (-1 from Verne) Switzerland just doesn’t see the practical side to this and how it will advance relations and England, bitter and jealous, doesn’t donate anything to the cause.

In the end, three men volunteer to be launched within a conical shell (+4 for Verne) towards the moon. President Barbicane of the Gun Club, Frenchman and poet, Michel Ardan, and rival and skeptic, Captain Nicholl. It is heavily implied that the venture is doomed to failure. There is no air on the moon after all. Verne implies that such a mission is crazy, the domain of lunatics. Yet, the adventurer and dreamer in all of us remain enthralled. Even the most skeptical of us can’t help but join. 

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