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From the Earth to the Moon ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
From the Earth to the Moon is an 1865 science fiction/fantasy novel by Jules Verne. Even though Jules Verne was a Frenchman and wrote in French, the novel is set in America because that is where people think big and accomplish the impossible.
The Civil War has ended and American military men are unhappy that there’s nobody else to fight. But, wait a minute, there’s some other way for these people to expend their excess energy. The president of the Baltimore Gun Club, one Impey Barbicane (with a name like that, we know we’re not being serious), comes up with the interesting idea of shooting a projectile all the way to the moon out of a cannon. It won’t be easy, of course, but these are Americans, and they don’t know the meaning of “impossible.”
Soon people all over the world are fascinated by the idea of sending a vessel to the moon. Most think it’s a good idea whose time has come, but there are always the naysayers who are sure it’s a disaster in the making. Donations come pouring in from every part of the globe, in the millions, to finance the expensive project.
It’s going to take a very large cannon to shoot a projectile with enough force to traverse the quarter-of-a-million miles between the earth and the moon. It is decided, after much thought and research, that the cannon will have to be nine hundred feet long, buried in the ground, and will be ignited with something known as guncotton. The place chosen for the cannon is Florida because it’s part of the United States proper and is below the twenty-eighth parallel, which is necessary to allow for the best shot at the moon. And, since the moon and the earth are constantly moving, the projectile must be launched at a certain time to be capable of reaching the moon. Many thousands of people, from all over the world, are fascinated by the prospect of a vessel traveling to the moon and converge on Florida, making a city out of a wasteland.
Many chapters are devoted to the construction of the cannon and the logistical problems that must be overcome to send a vessel to the moon. In the spirit of American adventurism, no problem is too difficult. As the date for the launch approaches, Impey Barbicane and two other of his associates decide they will make the trip more interesting by placing themselves in the projectile and riding along to the moon. After they figure out problems of food, water and air, there isn’t anything that will stop them. Are there people on the moon and, if so, how will they receive men from earth? Are there fearsome animals that might be dangerous? The intrepid trio take along firearms just in case.
From the Earth to the Moon is interesting because it’s written by a master of the fantasy/fantastic genre and is a nineteenth century Frenchman’s view of America, complete with boastful characters who love to fight and never shrink from a challenge. There’s lots of humor in the novel and a lightness to the proceedings. We never once think that Impey Barbicane and his two compatriots will die in the vessel or that they won’t be able to return safely to earth. There is no death in a book like this. Death is not part of the equation.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp
Roman Coin ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Dakin stood in the corner of the yard, his work finished for the day. When he saw Evan come out of the house, he motioned him over and held out both fists.
“Guess which one,” he said.
Evan smiled, something he hadn’t done all day. “That one,” he said, pointing to the right fist.
Dakin unclenched both fists and in his right palm was a dull cold coin.
“What is it?” Evan asked.
“It’s an old Roman coin. I wanted to give it to you.”
Evan picked the coin off Dakin’s palm and held it close to his eyes. “Thank you,” he said.
“It’s not for spending. It’s a keepsake.”
“Don’t show it to the others.”
There had been other gifts, small enough to hold in the palm of the hand: an insect trapped in amber said to be millions of years old, a shark’s tooth, a monkey’s paw for good luck. Evan didn’t think to ask Dakin how he came by these treasures. He just accepted them with gratitude and hid them deep in his dresser drawer and took them out at night and turned them over in his hands when he was alone.
He put the Roman coin in his pocket and went in to dinner. He wanted to take the coin out and hold it in his hand, but he knew somebody would see it and ask him about it.
“I saw Evan out the window talking to Dakin,” Eden said, after they had all started eating.
“What were you talking about, Evan?” mother asked.
“If you were talking, you must have been talking about something.”
“I asked him how he was and he asked me about how school was going. I’m the only one in the family that ever talks to him.”
“That’s not true,” mother said. “I talk to him. I have to tell him what I want him to do.”
“I think you should get rid of him,” Eden said. “He gives me the creeps.”
“Why?” mother asked.
“He looks at me and when I look back, he looks away, all innocent like.”
“You’re crazy!” Evan said. “Nobody would look at you if they didn’t have to!”
“Has he ever said anything to you or approached you in any way?” mother asked.
“No!” Eden said. “And he’d better not, either!”
“Well, if he says or does anything to you that he shouldn’t, you let me know.”
“She’s just jealous,” Evan said. “She wants him to look at her and when he doesn’t she tells lies about him.”
“That’s a bald-faced lie!” Eden said.
“That’s enough of that kind of talk at the table!” mother said. “I think we can find something better to talk about at mealtime than the outdoor man.”
“The lawn and garden have never looked better,” father said. “Dakin does a commendable job for very little pay. I don’t want to hear any more complaints about him, unless all of you want to do the outside work.”
“No thanks!” Evan said.
“I don’t know what’s so hard about it,” Eden said. “Anybody could do it.”
Eden was seventeen, a year older than Evan. She was, Evan believed, his opposite, his natural enemy. She was always trying to gain an advantage over him. They had clashed almost every day of their lives.
And then there was Pauline, the older sister. She was twenty-three and would be married in a few months. When she left home, Evan and Eden would go to war over who took possession of her room at the front of the house overlooking the street.
“He does seem kind of mysterious,” Pauline said. “Does anybody know anything about him? What does he do in his off time? Where does he live? Is he married?”
“He’s discreet,” father said. “What’s wrong with that? If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s somebody always coming up with personal excuses for not doing the work they’ve been hired to do.”
“I like Dakin,” Evan said and everybody looked at him.
“You would!” Eden said. “You’re a younger version of him. If you spend enough time with him, maybe you’ll become as creepy as he is and no girls will have anything to do with you.”
He was pleased that Eden said he was like Dakin but careful not to show it.
That night he slept with the Roman coin in his fist. When he awoke in the morning, the coin was gone and his first thought was that Eden had crept into his room while he was asleep and took it, but it had only fallen to the floor beside the bed.
He began having trouble at school. When he said he was too sick to do calisthenics and was excused and told to go to the nurse’s office, he was found a short time later smoking a cigarette behind the building. The next day, a heated argument with an English teacher resulted in his tearing up his essay and throwing it in the teacher’s face. A few days later, while taking a geometry test, he was accused of cheating by looking up the answers out of the textbook.
The school principal called father and told him they were going to have to take disciplinary action, which might include suspension.
“Don’t worry,” father said. “He’ll be disciplined from this end. I assure you there will be no further problems.”
That evening there was a heated discussion between Evan and mother and father. Mother cried and said she was afraid Evan was going to end up in the penitentiary, while father paced the floor.
“Where have I gone wrong?” father said.
“It’s nothing,” Evan said, trying to keep from laughing. “They blow everything out of proportion. I didn’t do anything that everybody else doesn’t do all the time.”
“Yes, but you were the one that got caught!” his father exclaimed. “How could you be so stupid?”
“How could you be so careless?” mother sobbed.
Eden lurked around the corner, taking in every word, delighted that Evan was the one in trouble and not her.
“Maybe the answer is military school,” father said. “If I can’t instill discipline, maybe they can.”
“I won’t ever go to military school,” Evan said calmly. “I’ll kill myself first.”
“How can you say such a thing with your religious upbringing?” mother said.
The next day when he got home from school, he sought out Dakin in the back yard.
“I hate school,” he said. “I have some money saved. I’m thinking about going off somewhere and living by myself. Maybe to New York.”
“That doesn’t sound very practical at your young age,” Dakin said.
“My parents are threatening to send me to military school. They have the idea it’ll make me just like them, make a man out of me. I told them I’d kill myself first.”
“They know you don’t mean it.”
“I do mean it.”
“Your mother is standing at the window watching us.”
When he went inside, she was waiting for him. “What has that man been saying to you?”
“You know what man. Is he saying things to you about women?”
“Mother, how can you be so oblivious to everything that’s going on around you?”
“I want to know. What has he been saying to you?”
“Nothing! He was just telling me I ought to finish school, that’s all.”
“Have you been discussing your problems at school with him?”
“What of it? He’s my friend.”
“He’s no kind of friend for you to have. We don’t know anything about him. He could be a convict or a cutthroat for all we know.”
“He’s not. He’s a good person.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”
“I don’t want you talking to him anymore. Let him alone to do his work. You don’t know what he might be thinking.”
“He’s not thinking anything, except maybe how to get away from here, and who could blame him for that?”
Father and mother decided that part of Evan’s problem was that he had too much free time on his hands, too much time to wallow in self-pity. He needed direction and guidance. He was told to come straight home from school every day and work on his homework until dinner. Then after dinner he was to spend at least more two hours on studying, and that left him an hour of leisure time before bedtime to do what he wanted. On weekends he was kept busy with house cleaning, cleaning out the attic and the basement, and volunteer work at church.
He didn’t want Dakin to think he had abandoned him. Every day before he went into the house after school he managed to seek him out and have a brief word with him before mother spotted him out the window.
Quarterly grades came out and it was worse than anybody expected. Evan was failing in two subjects and barely passing in three others. When the school year ended, it was doubtful if he would be passed on to the next grade.
Father found a tutor. Two evenings a week, from seven to nine p.m. Evan spent in the home of a retired teacher, a Mrs. Ellsworth, who drilled him relentlessly on the finer points of mathematics and biology. She believed the only way for a lazy boy to learn was through strict discipline and application. Evan instantly despised her.
One evening when he was returning from one of his tutoring sessions, he was surprised to see Dakin standing on the sidewalk in front of the house.
“What are you doing here this time of night?” he asked.
“I’m locked out of my room tonight. I need a place to stay.”
“Mother will let you stay in the guest room.”
“I couldn’t ask her.”
“She already doesn’t like me.”
“That’s not true.”
“I can sleep in the storeroom in the garage.”
“It’s too cold. You can stay in my room.”
“I don’t think so.”
“I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
“Nobody has to know about it.”
“If your father found me creeping up the stairs, he’d shoot me and the world would applaud him for it.”
“Climb up to the flat part of the roof and over to my window. There’s a ladder there. It’s easy.”
“Are you sure you want to take the risk?”
“No risk. Nobody will ever know, but if they do I take full responsibility. I’ll say I invited you.”
“If you’re sure it’s all right.”
“Wait until after ten o’clock. Everybody will be in bed by then. I’ll leave the light on so you’ll know which room is mine.”
A little before ten o’clock, Evan said goodnight and went up to his room and locked himself in. He took off his clothes, put on his pajamas and got into bed with a book.
At fifteen minutes past ten, he heard a tapping and stood up and opened the window for Dakin to come inside.
“Anybody see you?” Evan whispered.
“I don’t think so.”
Dakin took off his coat and sat down in the chair and untied his shoes.
“You can sleep in my bed,” Evan said.
“I’m not taking your bed.”
“I meant both of us.”
“What if somebody comes in?”
“The door is locked. Nobody can come in unless I unlock the door.”
Evan moved over in the bed. Dakin slipped off his pants and shirt and slipped in under the covers.
“This is what I always wanted,” Evan said.
“If your parents knew I was here, they wouldn’t like it.”
“They won’t know.”
“If they fired me now, it wouldn’t matter because I’ll be leaving in a few days anyway.”
Evan felt a pit open up at his feet. “Where to?”
“I don’t know yet. Maybe Chicago. I don’t like big cities, though.”
“I’m coming with you.”
Dakin laughed. “We wouldn’t get very far. They’d come after us and put me in jail.”
“I could say it was my idea.”
“You’re a minor. You don’t have anything to say until you’re eighteen.”
“If I stay here I’ll end up in military school.”
“It might be just what you need.”
“Would you want to go?”
“No, but it’s not me we’re talking about.”
“When I’m old enough, I’ll come to wherever you are, whether it’s Chicago or some other place.”
“After you finish school, maybe we can talk about it then.”
“You’ll write to me? Let me know where you are?”
“When you’re eighteen, I’ll write to you and not before. You can tell me then if you’re still interested, but I can almost guarantee you won’t be. After high school, you’ll want to go on to college. You’ll meet a beautiful young girl and want to get married and have children.”
“No, I won’t.”
They both went to sleep then and when Evan woke up in the morning, Dakin was gone. He had left a note on Evan’s desk that said, simply, I was never here.
Evan only saw Dakin two more times in passing and then he was gone. Father hired an old Italian man to take his place.
The tutoring sessions and the hours of study paid off. Evan’s grades improved significantly in the next quarter. Threats of military school subsided, at least for the time being.
The months passed slowly for Evan. He was withdrawn, living in a world of his own making, engaging with others only when he had no other choice. He thought about Dakin every day but never mentioned his name. When he was alone in his room at night, he held the Roman coin in his fist and believed it gave him the will to go on.
Finally, he was seventeen and had come to his last year of high school. He turned eighteen in the spring right before graduation. While his classmates were excited about going on to college, getting married or traveling abroad, he was silent about any plans he might have for the future. When mother or father tried to talk to him about college, he snapped at them and told them he had booked passage to northern Africa to join the Foreign Legion.
Five days after graduation, high school diploma in hand, he received a letter postmarked Denver. He never doubted the letter would come. He wrote back the same day.
He pawned the Roman coin, lying about his age. It brought him enough money to buy his train ticket West, with enough left over to buy some new clothes and some boots. When he boarded the train for Denver, it was to begin a new life completely removed from the old one.
Dakin met him at the train in Denver. He still looked the same, but Evan had changed. He was no longer a boy but a man. He and Dakin spent the next sixty years together until death parted them. When one of them died, they both died.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp