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Customer Review

4.0 out of 5 stars BLAST OFF?!, 30 Aug. 2012
This review is from: From the Earth to the Moon (Mass Market Paperback)
THIS REVIEW CONSIDERS BOTH 'FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON' & 'AROUND THE MOON' SEPARATELY.

A REVIEW OF `FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON' BY JULES VERNE

`From The Earth To The Moon'* (1865) is a novel that should ultimately fail to hold any real purpose or interest in the 21st century. After all, its premise (Is it possible to send a projectile to the moon?) is utterly redundant. Not only did Neil Armstrong's 1969 steps prove that such a feat could be achieved, but the method suggested in `From The Earth To The Moon' (firing a capsule into space from a gigantic artillery gun) was scientific nonsense. With all of these facts stacked against it, why then is the novel still intriguingly readable and entertaining?

The answer surely lies in the fact Jules Verne appears to have written `From The Earth To The Moon' with his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek. Rather than offer a serious exercise in speculative lunar exploration, it is more cock-eyed study of the human obsessions of war, imperialism and personality cults that permeated the late 19th century. Indeed, it would seem that Verne himself did not believe that a voyage to the moon was actually possible and overwhelmed his reader with a tidal wave of scientific `facts' that served to mask some glaring omissions in his supposed theory (the most blatant being that the projectile would be squashed to pancake thinness upon firing!). Let us therefore look at the themes that the book satirises.

War and imperialism certainly get a good kicking in `From The Earth To The Moon'. The whole idea of launching a projectile to the moon stems from the frustration of the USA's artillery manufacturers following the end of the American Civil War. In such a way, the challenge of building an outsized cannon replaces their desire to design military weapons. Verne uses the imaginary `Gun Club' organisation as the think tank behind the lunar plans. The way that he has his industrialists talking suggests that they retain an entirely detached attitude to their work in terms of human compassion. What they crave is the challenge and the financial rewards. The target is purely an irrelevance. `From The Earth To The Moon' therefore offers a scathing but humorous attack upon the attitudes that were to result in two world wars in the 1900s.

Perhaps even more perceptive is Verne's ridicule of the personality cults that had transformed (and would transform) national leaders into figures of near god-like stature. This is most obviously lampooned in the public's reaction to the posing and posturing of an absurd Frenchman, Michel Ardan, who volunteers to become the world's first astronaut. Thanks to the telegram and newspaper coverage, within weeks of his heroic announcement, a wealth of Ardan inspired merchandise is ready for the hungry man-on-the-street's purchase. At times, `From The Earth To The Moon' resembles an episode of `The Simpsons' in which the wider public is swept along in wild waves of mass over-reaction. As such, the novel does seem to be rather ahead of its time. Writing of which, Verne's choice of Florida as the launch base of the space capsule turns that peninsula into the fictional space station / theme park that it would later become.

However, `From The Earth To The Moon' remains a flawed novel by virtue of the impossibility of its proposed journey. Indeed, the afore-mentioned over-loading of scientific evidence is tiresome and horribly slows down the pace of the narrative. Nevertheless, overlooking its failings, `From The Earth To The Moon' offers enough surprises and produces enough wry smiles** to retain the reader's interest far beyond expectations. It also offers a wonderful `cliff hanger' that sets up the sequel - `Around The Moon'- with real promise. Therefore, whilst not being truly stellar entertainment `From The Earth To The Moon' creates enough atmosphere to make second orbit well worth trying.

Barty's Score: 7/10

* Interestingly, Verne's premise of `From The Earth To The Moon' is an exact negative/mirror image of his previous year's magnificent `Journey To The Centre Of The Earth'.
** In 1865, Verne tells us that Russia was happy to pump money into the international funding of the mission. How different things would turn out to be in the actual space race of the 1960s!

A REVIEW OF `AROUND THE MOON' by JULES VERNE

`Around The Moon' (1870) is Jules Verne's sequel to his `From the Earth to the Moon' published five years earlier. It picks up exactly where its predecessor left off, with our 3 intrepid astronauts (Barbican, Nicholl and Michel Arden) having been fired by a giant cannon towards the moon in their bullet-shaped projectile. Having been spotted from Earth hovering in the moon's orbit, how will they fare? Will they become the first lunar explorers? Will they survive the journey? Will they ever set foot on terrestrial soil again?

I must confess to having approached `From the Earth to the Moon' with some trepidation, wrongly assuming that it would prove to be a redundant tale, given the events of 1969 and beyond. However, to my pleasant surprise, Jules Verne delivered a wry fable about celebrity and mankind's ceaseless ambition. Sadly, `Around The Moon' succumbs to most of the pitfalls that the first volume avoided. It is not a bad book. Instead, it has failed to stand the test of time and would benefit from a considerable abridgement. Allow me to briefly explain why:

1. Far too much of the novel is set within the confined environment of the space craft. In fact, the first 19 chapters take place nowhere else. At first (with descriptions of the novel way of generating oxygen, etc.), this makes for fun reading. However, it soon breeds a woeful lack of incident. Indeed, if `Around The Moon' were a play, most of the `action' would involve one, two or three or its leading men simply wandering over to a window and looking out. This point is emphasised by the book's illustrations. Although beautifully drawn, most are inevitably extremely similar, with a certain `spot the difference' quality about them.
2. Because the bulk of the story takes place aboard the projectile, very little actually happens and the narrative disintegrates into a series of hypothetical conversations and lengthy descriptions of actual lunar studies by renowned astronomers from the past. Whilst this might have held some genuine interest in the late 19th century, such passages are arguably less-than-captivating today.
3. Perhaps most frustrating of all, the story fails to emphasise the "Will they? Won't they?" predicament of the travellers. Rather than show a determination to reach the moon and/or return to Earth, our three astronauts seem content to adopt a ce-sera-sera attitude throughout their journey. Amidst an incredible story, this phlegmatic mindset is perhaps the most unbelievable element of all.

Nevertheless, despite its failings, `Around The Moon' offers flashes of the creativity and verve that made its predecessor such a delightful read. Indeed, the opening chapters offer the truly bizarre phenomenon of a pancake-thin dead dog orbiting the space craft! Likewise, as soon as the story returns to Earth, the pace and incident pick up with immediate effect. In fact, had the final 10% of the story been stretch to become the final 50% of the book, it would have been a far more balanced and satisfying read.

Therefore, my advice would be to accept the limitations of `Around The Moon', skim read the acres of astronomical and mathematical gobbledegook, and enjoy the odd flash of magic. After a brilliant first volume, `Around The Moon' avoids a crash landing, but fails to truly take off.

Barty's Score: 6.5 / 10
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