Another of Jules Verne’s classics, from a Kindle Collection. This one again involves mostly Americans, who Verne seems at the same time find very odd and yet likeable.
The main thrust involves a Club of Artillery buffs from the Civil War, the Gun Club. Finding that the purpose of their club was over due to the lack of need for large artillery. So they conceive the biggest artillery project imaginable – a cannon that can fire a round all the way to the moon!
It catches the imagination of the world, and many countries donate money to the project – here Verne pokes fun at various nations in how much money they give. The 900 foot cannon is cast in Florida, after a big tussle with Texas over location.
Only one man opposes the project, Captain Nicholl, a long rival with Barbicane, the Gun Club president. Nicholl makes armor plate, and so is the natural opponent of a maker of guns! He makes a bet with Barbicane about the failure of the project.
Late in the process, a Frenchman, Michel Ardan, proposes to ride in the projectile as the first ambassador to the Moon. After the two rivals meet and almost fight a duel to the death, except that they get distracted by rescuing a bird and solving a technical problem, Ardan solves the rivalry by proposing that all three ride to the Moon.
Nicholl agrees despite the bets he has that the project will fail in a number of ways that will result in his death. This is very American.
The book ends with the shot, and the news that the projectile has missed the moon. There is a sequel, Around the Moon, that follows the flight itself.
The engineering details in the book might deter the modern reader, but the ironic and humorous portrayal of the characters and the world – for example, the problems with spectators sneaking in and smoking around during the loading of the explosive charge before the shot – adds to the realism that makes the fantastic seem possible.
And the parallels between the actual moon shots, especially Apollo 8 – launched from Florida, three passengers in a cylindro-conical craft, and the first mission to the moon passing around the moon in December, are interesting.