Off On A Comet by Jules Verne
This book is available as a free download from Project Gutenberg.
The introduction to the edition I listened to warned that unlike most of Verne's books, this story rests on an entirely unbelievable premise. That is, that a comet has picked up several hundred square miles of Earth’s land surrounded by hundreds of miles of sea water, and carried them off into space intact with living plants and animals, fresh water streams, a breathable atmosphere, etc. Once one gets past that, Verne does return to conforming to science (at least as well as it was understood in his time).
There are certainly signs that this was not written in our lifetimes. For instance, the story begins with a dispute between a Russian nobleman and a French army officer, who decide to settle their differences with a sword fight. For my tastes, Verne's work has been too old. To take what may not be an entirely representative example, my scientific interests can't be stimulated by a story about riding a hot air balloon around the world. I expected the scientific reach of this story to be of more interest to me. This did not turn out quite as I had hoped.
The comet has swept up a few men with this section of land without serious injury. They were knocked unconscious and do not realize they are on a comet rather than the Earth. They soon discover that gravity is not as strong and the air is thinner, but that is the main practical differences they initially note. The sky is always overcast for the first period of time, so they can't get any information from the sky - aside from the fact it is dark as night for 6 hours and then light like day for 6 hours.
I had expected the book to be more about the solar system, comets, etc. In fact, much of the book is about the people who have been taken away on the comet – how they explore the fragment from Earth and deal with its climate. They have no idea that a comet or other body came near the Earth. They assume they are still on the Earth - or after a time they eventually conclude they are on a part of the Earth that flew off because of something like a huge volcanic explosion. They sail a boat around the sea trying to find other people who may be able to tell them what happened. Later in the story, as the comet moves outward in the solar system, the temperature declines. By this time they understand they are on some body which will increase its distance from the Sun for some length of time, resulting in a long, harsh winter. They make preparations to survive the cold. A few months later, their winter housing begins to become unusable, and they must find other quarters to live.
These kinds of matters in an essentially Earth-like (even if arctic) environment make up most of the book. There are some descriptions of some of the other planets when the comet gets relatively close to them. Verne gives us figures of distances between this and that (sometimes in miles, more often in leagues). There are references to the equations used to calculate the attributes of the comet and its orbit. However, these are neither the bulk nor focus of the book. What we have is much closer to a story of a ship that has lost its bearings at sea that deposits its crew on an island in the arctic and how they proceed to survive on that island. It is not bad as a 19th Century adventure story of that type. However, there is no significant exploration of the comet beyond the part taken from the Earth. Jupiter is viewed from no closer than 30 million miles away. There are no real adventures dealing with celestial bodies they pass. If Verne offers anything that 19th Century readers considered an interesting insight on the planets they pass, it was lost on me reading it in 2008.
There were also some negative stereotyping and comments about Jews, Spaniards and dark skinned Africans. (Englishmen were also portrayed as being too full of themselves as a country and being indifferent to the plight of non-Englishmen.) There is an ongoing subplot about a miserly merchant – with constant references to him being a Jew and describing his unappealing character.
If you like other works by Jules Verne and his contemporaries, and would enjoy what is mainly a 19th Century adventure story, you may find this book worthwhile. If you are looking for a story focusing on interplanetary travel, it would probably be better to look elsewhere.
I listened to the Gutenberg audio version of the book. It was only available in a computer-generated voice. The voice is not unclear, but it is very artificial. At least at the beginning I did not find it very agreeable. At first I thought I might decide not to listen to it. But at the time I started listening to it I was not at home and did not have other books to listen to. So I continued to listen and got used to the voice sufficiently that I decided to soldier through the book. Not everyone will get used to it (or want to get used to it).
The underlying premise of the story is implausible even according to the introduction in the Project Gutenberg audio version I used. The premise is this: a metallic "comet" with an equatorial circumference of 400 miles grazes the Earth. (All the astronomers in the world except one have been unable to see it coming because there has been a worldwide heavy fog that lasted for weeks.) The comet somehow scoops up a section of the Earth including several hundred square miles of Algeria, enough water from the Mediterranean Sea to make a sea around the comet's equator and enough of Earth's air to give the comet a somewhat thin but breathable atmosphere. All of this is done while leaving the transported land intact - trees are alive and standing, crops are still growing, animals and people have no serious injuries, etc. The transported land and water are conveniently surrounded by high cliffs of the comet's material to keep the water contained as a sea in a limited area. The comet proceeds in an elliptical orbit taking it out beyond Jupiter, but the temperature on the comet only falls to about -60 Fahrenheit. .The comet’s orbit takes it exactly two years, so after that time it conveniently passes by the Earth again.