Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jules Verne's "From The Earth to the Moon" & "Around the Moon" (Steak Knives/Cadillac)

There were a lot of surprises for what I assumed was a story I pretty much knew the gist of already.  Verne's From Earth to the Moon (and it's bundled sequel) exists as an absolute classic of early speculative/science fiction.  Steak Knives for enjoyment, Cadillac for being the trail-blazer!

The story reads much like the later speculative fiction of John Wyndham - showing as much care and concern for how it *could* happen, and how it might actually *play out* as for the progression of the story or theme itself (think Trouble with Lichen or The Kraken Wakes).  This is great stuff.  After Wyndham, this kind of spec/sci-fi pulls far away from my interest, where writers get too bogged down in the detail of the science (say, Crichton's Andromeda Strain, for example).  I just don't care that much about the numbers, and they start to crowd out the story.

Still, Verne is writing in the 19th C. - a unique and compelling point in the history of science, discovery, exploration, warfare and ethnography.  This is what makes his speculations so engaging for the contemporary reader.  They're completely implausible, but so thoroughly, carefully and artfully thought out.  What *if* we created a giant cannon, put some people and a few dogs in the projectile, and shot it at the moon.  Who would we find there?  What would they be like?  How would all of this play out?

Firing the travelers from the (buried)
900 foot 'Columbiad' cannon.
His reasoning hits on several points accurate to the 20th C. Apollo program.  He cites Florida as the best location for launch, and has his lunar module (of about the same dimension) splash down in the Pacific to be recovered by a US Navy ship.  Reasoned foresight or chance?  It's also interesting that he pegs the industrious Americans as the only people capable of such a bold and epic objective, though one that had its genesis in their science of war (with the post-Civil War 'Gun Club' members echoing NASA's enthusiastic use of von Braun in the US space program).

Spoiler alert - The title "From Earth to the Moon" is highly misleading.  The sequel, "Around the Moon" is somewhat more appropriately titled, but both (as bundled here) are generally and colloquially called "From Earth to the Moon."  At no point do they land on the moon!  The source of confusion - an early and iconic silent film *based* on Verne's novels (and those of H.G. Wells) that muddy associations with the original text, at least for me.  While this doesn't detract from the story, it was a disappointment, as I must admit I was puzzled and anxious to see how Verne addressed landing and returning from the lunar surface.  The let down was my baggage, not his.

"We were totally lied to by our album covers..."
ALSO IMPORTANT TO NOTE: This was my first e-book experience, downloaded free to my iPhone from Project Gutenberg.  While I'm still married to the hard copy experience, I thought Verne was the right author to test out the technology and take advantage of the creative commons at the same time.

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