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The First Men in the Moon
H.G. Wells
Orion Millennium, 196 pages

Chris Moore
The First Men in the Moon
H.G. Wells
Herbert George Wells was born in 1866 in Bromley (an outer London borough) and was educated at the Normal School of Science in London. He worked as a draper's apprentice, bookkeeper, tutor, and journalist until 1895, when he became a full-time writer. In the next 50 years he produced more than 80 books including The Invisible Man (1897), When the Sleeper Awakes (1899), The First Men in the Moon (1901) and The Shape of Things to Come (1933). After World War I, he wrote an immensely popular historical work, The Outline of History (2 volumes, 1920). He died August 13, 1946, in London.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Time Machine and War of the Worlds
H.G. Wells Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by David Maddox

Since before recorded history, through the rise and fall of empires, there has been one shining constant in the night sky: The Moon. Larger than any star, yet not so far away, visionaries imagined conquering this alluring world centuries before we actually made the voyage. Classic science-fiction legend H.G. Wells' masterpiece The First Men in the Moon captures the majesty of man's first expedition to the Grand Luna.

Originally published in 1901, the novel has been re-released 100 years later in Gollancz's SF Masterworks series (number 38 of an impressive collection of tales which include The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds). The publishers understand that presentation is just as important as the overall story and the book greets the reader with a stunning cover illustration by Chris Moore, an artist trained at the Royal College of Art, who proves more than capable of capturing the essence of this adventure. Then the book features an engaging introduction from Arthur C. Clarke, giving a brief history of Wells' writing career. After that it's on to the adventure.

Set in England at the beginning of the 20th century, average industrialist Bedford finds himself entwined in the machinations of Cavor, an eccentric genius who has developed Cavorite, a substance that negates the pull of gravity. The two men construct a vessel called the Sphere which hurls them to the moon. But the adventurers have very different agendas. Cavor hopes to discover a utopian society he imagines living on the planet, while Bedford is purely interested in the monetary gain the trip represents (after all, everyone knows there's gold on the moon). Once they arrive, they stumble upon the world of the Selenites, insect-like, biologically engineered aliens living beneath the surface of the moon in dark, cavernous, technologically-astounding cities. Then things go drastically wrong...

Wells' envisioning of Earth's satellite is fascinating in its accuracy; a barren planet with a thin (yet breathable) atmosphere, a freezing night and very little gravity. However, when the sun rose, Wells imagined forests of trees and plants exploding to life, having a mere moon-day (which is like an Earth week) to grow, germinate and seed before the cold of the night withers them. Wells saw the possibility that the moon itself would be full of catacombs, tunnels and internal seas. The Selenite society (although Cavor humorously refers to them as "Moonies") would exist beneath the surface like an ant colony. The images he creates are briefly seen by Bedford and somewhat described later by Cavor, which Wells has cleverly done to leave the reader's imagination to paint its own picture of this underworld.

As for our "heroes," Bedford himself is not a scientist or a visionary, merely a man, much like the Time Traveller's unnamed friend of Wells' first novel, The Time Machine. He serves as the readers eyes and ears on the expedition, bringing the scientific concepts to an understandable level. His character may be a little rough around the edges (profit was the main reason he went to the moon), but he does show some heroic traits when trying to find Cavor as the death-cold of lunar night approaches.

Cavor is definitely an enigma. He appears mysteriously at the start of the story (an introduction which certainly inspired many Doctor Who adventures years later), and is revealed to be the stereotype of the absent-minded scientist. He has no thought towards money or personal glory and is genuinely surprised when Bedford explains how rich they could get from marketing Cavorite. However, there is a callousness to him. He would not only sacrifice himself for his work, but others as well.

Wells' writing was criticized by contemporary Jules Verne for the creation of the "mythical" substance Cavorite, since Verne claims the space gun he used to propel his travellers in From the Earth to the Moon was based on sound scientific principles. Yet an anti-gravity device, powered by an unknown substance is a concept that has not fallen out of fashion over the years, though as Clarke states in his intro, none have yet reached the Patent Office.

Other critics of the time, as recounted in the final chapter of the book, were quick to discard Wells as a writer of children's books with his notions of time, space, aliens and other flights of fancy. Fortunately, his books remained popular and later writers, like George Orwell, began to see him as an inspiration and "father figure" of the genre which helped him leave his mark on literature of today.

As far as current criticism, today's readers might find this story a little dated. And it is, having been written 100 years ago. The writing style is very explanatory and there's really not too much swashbuckling action aside from a few harrowing escapes. There's no "grand showdown" and the entire adventure is pretty much a warning against imperialism and how mindless society can become if people are restricted to one station in life. This is best seen in Cavor's recounting of a young Selenite being raised in a bottle in preparation for it's life duty, "That wretched-looking hand-tentacle sticking out of its jar seemed to have a sort of limp appeal for lost possibilities."

However, the true message of this book comes from its portrayal of humanity's desire not to grow complacent, but rather to continually expand, explore and discover. At its heart, this book is about the strength of the human spirit. The First Men on the Moon established itself as a piece of science fiction history almost a century ago and doesn't require my humble words to become greater than it is. But this new edition does great homage to the classic and is definitely worth the read.

Copyright © 2001 David Maddox

David Maddox
Science fiction enthusiast David Maddox has been many things, including Star Trek characters and the Riddler in a Batman stunt show. He holds a degree in Cinema from San Francisco State University, and has written several articles for various SF sites as well as the Star Wars Insider. He spends his time working on screenplays and stories as well as acting in any venue he can. Residing in Los Angeles, he continues to be part of this wacky business called show.

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