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The Science Behind Jules Verne's Moon Novels - Andrew May ****

His work may be far less prominent now, but when I started reading science fiction as a teenager, the pioneering French SF writer, Jules Verne was still very popular. Unlike his UK rival H. G. Wells, Verne tried hard to make the science and engineering in his books as accurate as possible. Wells was a far better writer (when he wasn't indulging in non-fiction polemic), but Verne set the scene for 'hard science' SF.

In this delightful little book, Andrew May takes us through the science of Verne's two novels that covered a voyage around the Moon and back. His 1865 US protagonists from the Baltimore Gun Club build a huge cannon that propels them into space. As May points out, the space gun is the weakest part of the story, in that the acceleration would have been deadly for the occupants. However, that apart, Verne put a remarkable amount of effort into trying to get the science right.

It's a long time since I read the books - and I did so in a translation, which May points out dropped a lot of the original text. Specifically, and remarkably, in the original Verne included a lot of science, even packing in calculations and references. This isn't so much hard science SF, it's more an attempt at a SF/popular science crossover.

Taking us through different aspects, such as the physics of space travel, ballistics, life support questions and Verne's excellent portrayal of the Moon given the science of the day (they thought, for example, that the lunar craters were volcanic), May's enthusiasm for Verne shines through. As a reader I'm more of the Wells camp, however, I was persuaded of the impressive amount of science content in the Verne original.

This makes the Moon books an ideal topic for a 'science behind' title. If I'm honest, it's probably a little specialist for the casual science fiction reader. But if you are interested in the history of SF, The Science Behind Jules Verne's Moon Novels is a must.

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Review by Brian Clegg

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