After publishing the list of books that I read last year, I received some admonishing from one reader who complained that there was a severe lack of Jules Verne in my fiction reading. This, then, is my attempt to remedy that situation. Having read some of Verne’s books when I was a child and having seen some film adaptations of the books, I wanted to read one that I was unfamiliar with. It wasn’t terribly easy to get a hold of a copy of From the Earth to the Moon (FTETTM) as none of the bookshops I looked in had in stock, so I had to get it ordered specially. The version that actually arrived included the sequel, Around The Moon, which I shall be reading and reviewing shortly after this.
The story is as simple as it gets: a group of men decide that they wish to fire a projectile to the moon. I say ‘men’ because it is an all-male cast with not a single woman getting a look-in. In thinking through the book, I can see that there are two ways to read it. One is to take it at face value, in which case we get a really rather silly story, little characterisation and some preposterous dialogue. The other way of reading it is as a caricature of the American nationalism, with the self-aggrandising and pompous members of the Gun Club who wish to turn their projectiles skywards being emblematic of a pompous nationalism not unlike that witnessed in some quarters of American society today.
The book begins with members of a Gun Club venting their exasperation that there are no wars to fight and so little use for their guns. They want a project to occupy them, so an idea comes to launch an unmanned projectile to the moon. On a wave of ill-thought out enthusiasm, there is almost Nuremberg type rally designed to muster support and funds for the project (I know I’m being a little anachronistic here, but that’s nothing compared to the scientific flaws in Verne’s work). Most of the rest of the book is then concerned with how various technicalities might be overcome.
As a work of science fiction, then, it goes to an extreme end of realism, as Verne attempts to convince his reader that the idea of a projectile being launched is feasible. About 2/3rds of the way through, however, after quite a few of the issues are “sorted”, a new plan is hatched to ensure that the vessel is manned. This, of course, is a sleight of hand on Verne’s part as the issue of G-forces that would be created are cunningly overlooked.
The book concludes on a rather disappointing note as you do not get to find out whether or not they reach their goal. That, instead, is left for the sequel.
So would I heartily recommend it? Not really. It is an early example of science fiction, so it may help to understand how the genre has developed, but it is by no means a great exposition. So for die-hard Verne fans, it’s one to tick off the list, but I cannot claim that I enjoyed reading it.