Book review: The purchase of the North Pole
I am sure very few have even heard of this book. And to get your hands on this book is almost impossible. I was able to get a copy in my university library archives. This book is one of the masterpieces of Jules Verne, perhaps the oldest and greatest of the science fiction writers (along with H.G.Wells). And, take a look at the title. That?s something you can expect. Jules Verne's themes always carry a certain degree of "weirdness" in them, and this book is no different. But he has a scientific approach to his themes. Though the ideas are unreasonable, his approach to them is always logical.
Fiction and logic can be described as the two covers of a sci-fi book. While Jules Verne's books can be total fiction to the point of being absurd, they stick to the rules of science. That is the thing I admire about Verne. This book is an example.
The book opens with the following proposal. "The north pole is an area entirely covered with ice. Hence nobody has really found out what lies beneath. No expedition has been able to even get close to the pole till now, because of the extreme climate. But there are reasons to believe that the area under the ice in the North Pole has rich deposits of coal, and various other minerals. This resource has to be exploited. So all that needs to be done is to melt the ice. The rest is simple....!"
An international association is formed to auction this piece of land globally. No country is interested in buying this land, considering the odds. A club called the Gun club in America buys it.
(The Gun Club: This club, comprising of intelligent, influential but eccentric men, is always after the impossible. They appear in many other books of Verne, trying to send a projectile to the moon, Traveling on a comet and such other things?)
The Gun club decides that going to the North Pole to melt the ice is too inefficient a job. Besides, thats normal, rational approach. Hence, not acceptable. So what's the Gun Club approach? Change the axis of the earth, so that the North Pole will come into the region receiving normal sunrays and the ice will melt all by itself. No problème..!! Since people can't go to the pole, get the Pole to them...
Now comes the question, "How to turn the axis of earth?" Earth has to be rotated by 23 degrees of latitude so that the North Pole comes into the region receiving sufficient heat to melt the ice. How can this be done? Think about it for a moment. If you were consulting the Gun Club, what would be the solution you will provide to change the axis of the earth by 23 degrees laterally. What kind of a device would you use? How will you rotate earth by being "on" it?
Here lies the ingenuity of Jules Verne. The simplicity of the solution he gives is astounding. And obvious too. To arrive at the solution, we have to first consider these facts. To rotate the earth, we have to apply a force at a point on the surface of earth. A force, that will bring about the required change in the angle of the earth. However, the earth is not resting on anything. It is suspended in space. So there is no reference object with respect to which we can apply a force and rotate the earth. So..., the only possible means of applying a force on earth is by recoil. The solution to this problem is to fire a huge projectile from earth into space using a gigantic cannon with enormous power. For maximum efficiency, the projectile will be fired from a point on the equator. The recoil will produce a force which will turn the axis of the earth?!! Quod erat demonstrandum. Simple, yet effective.
No doubt it is impossible to build and fire a cannon of such proportions and it would be catastrophic to earth if such a mission is undertaken. But thats a different issue altogether. It is the logic behind the solution that is appreciable. Coming back to the book, it is with this plan of action that the Gun Club proceeds to build the monster cannon. I have made my point. The ending of the story is not important from my point of view. If you are interested in finding out whether the axis of earth has indeed been changed, read the book yourself. You can get online copies of some Jules Verne books at:
Incidentally, March 24, 2005 marks the centenary of Jules Verne's demise. Centre International Jules Verne , Paris is hosting a large international gathering of writers, researchers, collectors, and literary enthusiasts. It is being organized in the cities of Amiens, Nantes and Paris from the 19th to the 27th March 2005. An event to laud the man who wrote the future of science.
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