Monday, 30 April 2012

Steam Reads: The 21 Day Countdown to Queen Victoria's Birthday


I recently joined the Vancouverites for Steampunk book club group entitled "Steam Librarium & Consortium". Last month we each chose one Jules Verne book for discussion. I decided to read the fine book "From the Earth to the Moon" by Jules Verne, published in 1865.

Members of the Baltimore Gun Club met regularly to discuss the design and building of weapons, but once the American Civil War had ended the membership is left to a humdrum existence. President Barbicane of the club puts forth the idea about building a projectile that could be shot from the earth, and aimed at landing upon the lunar surface. His companions rally forth to put the plan in motion. 

Shortly thereafter President Barbicane receives a telegram from a Frenchman by the name of Michel Ardan, who writes that rather than a globe-shaped projectile, it should be capsule sized, and he wished to travel within it.

This rattles the cages of most of the membership. Captain Nicholl seems to be the arch rival in this book, skeptical that they can't undertake such an astronomical enterprise, let alone have a man land on the moon.

Much of the book is concerned with calculations of the size and materials of the capsule, width and substance of the cannon, and how far it is from the earth to the moon. Since I'm not an astronomer nor artillerywoman, I have no idea how accurate these calculations may be, but from a search on Wikepedia, it is said that Jules Verne should have been on the NASA team.

The Fiction part of Science Fiction comes into play when the characters believe that the moon contains a breathable atmosphere in her canyons, and that there may be "Selenites" inhabiting the moon. 

What I found eery about the book is that they named the huge cannon or "space gun" with the name of Columbiad, and that the capsule was launched from Tampa Town, which is not too far from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. So either Verne had his calculations bang on with Florida being in perfect alignment with the moon, or NASA thought it a great idea to follow the book?!

The book is also humourous in parts with the rivalry between Barbicane, and Nicholl and the calculating competitions they have with Ardan.

Book one ends with them worried that the capsule has stopped, before reaching the moon. Interestingly Verne makes mention of Earth's "second" moon, a satellite that has been in orbit around the earth that cannot be seen by the human eye. 

There actually has been a second "moon" that has been in the news recently. Of course it isn't the same one that existed in 1865, as these satellites eventually escape the gravity of the earth and continue their journeys around the sun. Astronomers like to argue over whether these can actually be considered "moons" as they are in fact satellites. I like to think so. 

I haven't read book two of this series yet, but it is named "Around the Moon", which I gather is a glimpse of what is to come.

I would recommend this book but suggest you skip past the tedious pages of calculations. Do stop and read the astronomical descriptions of the earth and the moon as I learned many facts while doing so.

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