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Some time after the American Civil War, members of a certain social club in Baltimore, called The Gun Club (because it consists largely of Civil War artillery officers and various defense industrialists) starts wondering what can they do in these times of peace — during the war they entertained themselves building guns that kept going bigger and bigger, but that's an expensive hobby in a peacetime.
The club members propose various wacky schemes up to starting a new war, until one of them suggest doing something that sounds impossible: shooting a giant bullet towards the moon, for no reason other than to show they can do it. Things only get more interesting when an exentric Frenchman, Michel Ardan, asks them to shoot a hollow projectile where he can travel to the moon.
The book is known for showing off Verne’s investigation; even though Science Marches On and some things he stipulated are now known to be incorrect, he still guessed a lot of facts right. It’s even more important if you consider that, when the book was written, there was almost nothing to investigate, since nobody knew anything about space travel or the characteristics of the moon.
Five years later, Verne wrote a follow up, Around the Moon (French: Autour de la Lune), about the situations that Ardan and his two companions on the projectile, Barbicane and Nicholl, have to deal with while on their way to the moon and back. As a curious fact, the book finished in his serialized form in 1869; exactly a hundred years later, man would reach the moon.
There was also a third novel, The Purchase of the North Pole (French: Sans dessus dessous). This one doesn’t deal with the moon at all and only has the characters in common; the plot is about the Gun Club’s attempt to destabilize the Earth’s orbit in order to exploit the wealth of the North Pole, completely disregarding the well-being of the rest of the inhabitants of the Earth. That's largely because it was written in the Verne's later, more misanthropic period, and is largely a satire at the rampant commercialization of the world.
The book has the following tropes:
- Artistic License Physics: The astronauts get to the moon by being shot out of a 900 foot long cannon. In order to reach sufficient velocity to reach the Moon while traveling the length of the cannon, the ship would have to accelerate at 22,000 gravities, which would squash the astronauts inside it flat no matter what precautions were taken.
- Batman Can Breathe in Space: Michael Ardan is asked whether it is not foolish, since there is little if no air on the Moon? "Then I will only breathe on special occasions!" he quips.
- BFG: The cannon used to launch the projectile.
- Determinator: The American people. More precisely, the members of the Gun Club.
- Duel to the Death: Nicholl challenges Barbicane to a duel. Both were late, though, for different reasons.
- Eagle Land: The United States are portrayed as a bunch of Trigger Happy, hard-working Determinators.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: From the Earth to the Moon is about making a gun big enough to shoot a bullet from the earth to the moon. Around the Moon is about the voyage of the three astronauts around the moon.
- Gun Nut: The Gun Club.
- Hook Hand: J. T. Maston, due to him being a civil war veteran.
- Human Aliens/Rubber Forehead Aliens: The astronauts talk about how the moonmen they expect to find are and if they, in fact, exist. It’s not exactly a spoiler to say they find none.
- Human Cannonball: Well, they at least use a vehicle here. Nevermind that the G-forces should have crushed them.
- Interplanetary Voyage
- Large Ham: Michel Ardan and J. T. Maston.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Captain Nicholl, as Ardan and Maston find out the day of the duel.
- National Anthem: "Yankee Doodle" serves as one here, since at the time, the United States didn't have an official national anthem.
- Omnibus: Nowadays, the first two books are issued as one.
- Patriotic Fervor: Again, the American people.
- Pet the Dog: Captain Nicholl, who misses his duel with Barbicane since he stopped on the way to save a small bird who has got stuck in a tarantula's net.
- Sequel Hook
- Scenery Porn
- Science Fantasy
- Science Marches On: Some of the facts are wrong, but you can’t blame Verne for not knowing something that nobody else knew. Around the Moon in particular suffers from this, considering the book is mostly about three people discussing the moon and the space around them.
- Shown Their Work: Verne went to great lenghs to specify solid numbers to support the characters’ plan. There are also things that he predicted correctly, like the location the astronauts would launch from, the number of astronauts and, within a range of error, where they would land.
- Space Is Cold
- Trigger Happy: Most of the Gun Club, but J. T. Maston deserves a special mention.
- Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names: Impey Barbicane.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Maston was more than willing to start a war with France because they laughed at an American and another war with Mexico only to acquire land for the launching, nevermind the fact that they already had land below the latitude required. In The Purchase of the North Pole, the Gun Club didn’t seem to mind that tilting the axis of the Earth would provoke floods in other parts of the world.