In the first part of Jules Verne's Classic science fiction duology describing man's space voyage, the members of the Gun Club strive to build a gun capable of firing a projectile to the moon. A bold group of artillery specialists seek to send the first projectile to the moon and are faced with technical difficulties and angry sceptics standing against them.
After the end of the American Civil War the artillerist of the Gun Club are bored. They worry that peace may be all they have to look forward to. But their enterprising president Impey Barbicane (in some translations called Barbican) has an exciting new project for them, they will build a giant cannon and fire a projectile to the moon! The proposal galvanises the membership, particularly the enthusiastic and war scarred J. T. Marston.
The club begins on the epic research necessary, writing to such learned institutions and Cambridge University for information about the moon. They must also calculate what size of barrel and of bullet they will need to successfully make the journey, how much gunpowder it will take, how to cast so vast a gun barrel and how much the whole affair will cost.
But not everyone believes in the enterprise. Captain Nicholl had been on the opposite side of the civil war to Barbicane, and while Barbicane had made guns, Nicholl had made armour plate. They are natural adversaries and now Nicholl writes to a sporting magazine with an open bet that Barbicane will fail on 5 points; raising the money; casting the cannon; loading the cannon; firing the cannon without it bursting; and that the projectile will fall back to earth. Each point is a separate wager and Barbicane accepts them all for a total of $15,000.
As work continues to dig the 900ft deep hole necessary to hold the cannon, the finance is sorted by appealing for help all over America and Europe, so Barbicane wins the first of his bets. Meanwhile, under Marston's guidance, work begins on casting the giant gun or Columbiad.
Then, out of nowhere comes a telegram from self-styled adventurer Michael Ardan, a Frenchman who wants to travel to the moon inside the projectile (which had previously been solid). But when Ardan arrives to discuss the idea, Nicholl turns up to poke holes and ridicule it, resulting in Barbicane challenging him to a duel. The duel is settled by Ardan who simply suggest that they both come along with him to find out first hand which of them is right. Both agree.
Barbicane finds a way to make the interior of the projectile safe for passengers and, following a successful test with a cat and a squirrel, the great day arrives and the projectile is fired into space. The first sighting of it however is not promising, as the projectile seems destined to become a satellite of the moon rather than landing on it. Only Marston never loses faith, and man's the purpose built giant telescope, waiting to see what will happen to his friends.
The story continues in the sequel Around the Moon published 5 years later in 1870.
Best part of story, including ending:
What I love about this story is how believable it is. Although the amount of scientific discussion can sometimes drag, the level of research Verne has done makes you wonder if the whole thing might have actually been possible.
Best scene in story:
I love the opening scene in the Gun Club in which the war damaged veterans with various missing body parts bemoan the absence of war. It is slyly funny and very cynical.
Opinion about the main character:
President Barbican is a man with the strength of his convictions. When it is suggested that he join this one way trip to the moon he agrees without hesitation.