Labor Day is here, and the Summer Reading List Challenge is over. Did you read 3 books this summer? I did. Actually, I read more than that, but I specifically wrote that you can’t count your own, which disqualifies most of my reading material. Here’s my third entry.
Title: From the Earth to the Moon
Author: Jules Verne
Genre: Literature/science fiction
Verne is often described as the first true science fiction author, and for good reason. Yet I’ve never actually read any of his works. I watched Journey to the Center of the Earth in elementary school (can’t tell you which one, but it was in 1993), and that’s about it. So I thought this would be a good time to fill that void in my knowledge, and what better way than with the original space trip?
Well, it’s not that simple. In fact, From the Earth to the Moon doesn’t actually involve any space travel. The whole story of this novel is about the buildup. It’s a nicely fantastical premise: a bunch of Yankee artillery aficionados are sad because the Civil War is over. They think there’s nothing left for them to do, since all the world’s at peace. (Little did they know…) So the president of their gun club—sounds like the NRA, if you ask me—gets the bright idea to build the world’s largest cannon, with the goal of sending a shot to the moon.
That’s not exactly plausible, but it is fun. There’s no deep characterization here, or subplots or scheming, because the book’s just too short for that. What we do have is a lengthy description of the effect our dear gunman’s announcement has on America. For what it’s worth, Verne seems remarkably prescient, which makes me wonder just how much the Apollo Program looked to this book for ideas a hundred years later. The builders choose Florida for their launch site, thanks to its latitude and lack of urbanization. They use aluminum to build their projectile, because weight matters. And the mission even ends up with three astronauts, exactly the same as Apollo 8.
All told, it’s a nice read. If there’s any downside (besides the part where From the Earth to the Moon never gets to the moon), it has to be the sometimes jarring shift between humorous dialogue and dry scientific exposition. Because the author goes into excruciating detail about the construction of the cannon, the orbit of the moon, Civil War weaponry, and anything else that tickles his fancy. At times, it reads like Tom Clancy playing Kerbal Space Program. But it was worth the time, and I think I’ll have to go back for the sequel. I’m pretty sure it won’t be nearly as grounded in reality, but science fiction has always shared a nebulous border with fantasy.
End of the line
So that’s the list this year. The Core, From Tyndale to Madison, and From the Earth to the Moon. A great epic fantasy, a biased history of religious freedom, and one of the first sci-fi novels. Could’ve been better, I’ll admit, but there’s always next year.