Sunday, February 11, 2018

Fortnightly Book, February 11

The next fortnightly books are Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon, #4 (1865) and #7 (1870) of the Voyages Extraordinaires, respectively, which I have in the single volume Wordsworth Classics edition.

The books are the first two of the three Voyages concerned with the doings of the Baltimore Gun Club (the third being Sans dessus dessous); famously, of course, they are the first works about human space travel that do not rely on fantastic elements; there's some reason to believe that Verne was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” but wanted something more realistic. Thus the work is exemplary in its scientific realism. Scientific realism, of course, should not be confused with scientific reality. There were many problems with launching into space that Verne knew quite well he had no solution for. When he could gloss over it for the purposes of the story, he did; when he couldn't (as with the unsurvivable forces of acceleration), he put in some token at least recognizing the problem and something that, more symbolically than anything, would bridge it.

In reality, though, it's likely that Verne's interests were less scientific than satirical, because one thing we learn almost immediately in the stories is that the Baltimore Gun Club is filled with people who are crazy even for Americans, and are a little bit dangerous because, as Americans, they are very, very practical and efficient crazy people.

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