Posts Tagged ‘H.G. Wells’

The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells ~ 1901. This edition: W. Collins Sons & Co., 1901. Hardcover. 254 pages.

This was a first for me: one of H.G. Wells science fiction/fantasy novels.

I’ve read a few of his “straight” novels: The History of Mr Polly and Mr Britling Sees It Through, and quite liked them though they were fairly run of the mill, reminding me of J.B. Priestley’s Bright Day and similar “ordinary man” novels.

This one, however, was nothing like those ones. It’s pure sci-fi, in its founding form.

Mr. Bedford is a young(ish) businessman who has run into severe financial difficulties. His solution to bankruptcy is to retreat to the country to write a play, which would doubtless be instantly successful, as first plays by non-writers usually are. (Yes, I’m joking, as is Wells throughout this frequently humorous novel.)

Here:

It is scarcely necessary to go into the details of the speculations that landed me at Lympne, in Kent. Nowadays even about business transactions there is a strong spice of adventure. I took risks. In these things there is invariably a certain amount of give and take, and it fell to me finally to do the giving reluctantly enough. Even when I had got out of everything, one cantankerous creditor saw fit to be malignant. Perhaps you have met that flaming sense of outraged virtue, or perhaps you have only felt it. He ran me hard. It seemed to me, at last, that there was nothing for it but to write a play, unless I wanted to drudge for my living as a clerk. I have a certain imagination, and luxurious tastes, and I meant to make a vigorous fight for it before that fate overtook me. In addition to my belief in my powers as a business man, I had always in those days had an idea that I was equal to writing a very good play. It is not, I believe, a very uncommon persuasion. I knew there is nothing a man can do outside legitimate business transactions that has such opulent possibilities, and very probably that biased my opinion. I had, indeed, got into the habit of regarding this unwritten drama as a convenient little reserve put by for a rainy day. That rainy day had come, and I set to work.

I soon discovered that writing a play was a longer business than I had supposed; at first I had reckoned ten days for it, and it was to have a pied-a-terre while it was in hand that I came to Lympne. I reckoned myself lucky in getting that little bungalow. I got it on a three years’ agreement. I put in a few sticks of furniture, and while the play was in hand I did my own cooking. My cooking would have shocked Mrs. Bond. And yet, you know, it had flavour. I had a coffee-pot, a sauce-pan for eggs, and one for potatoes, and a frying-pan for sausages and bacon—such was the simple apparatus of my comfort. One cannot always be magnificent, but simplicity is always a possible alternative. For the rest I laid in an eighteen-gallon cask of beer on credit, and a trustful baker came each day. It was not, perhaps, in the style of Sybaris, but I have had worse times. I was a little sorry for the baker, who was a very decent man indeed, but even for him I hoped.

So Mr. Bedford, incipient playwright, quite soon makes the acquaintance of Mr. Cavor, scientist-inventor, who is working on a project to develop a gravitationally neutral material. When it becomes apparent that Cavor’s invention  is successful, Bedford is quick to scent the possibilities of sharing in the potential profits (as yet undetailed) of such a unique material, and he partners with Cavor in the enterprise.

Cavor’s ideas are large and scientifically ambitious. With his anti-gravity material – cavorite – the sky is (literally) the limit. He has apparently also been mulling over the logistics of building a vessel to travel through space, and this he immediately puts into production, with Bedford his cooperative though bemused assistant.

Finally, the spaceship is completed.  It’s a round, glass-lined, ball-shaped object, sheathed in moving panels of cavorite which will ingeniously allow steering, landing, etcetera, outfitted with all of the needs for space travel, not detailed by Wells, who merely assures us that the travellers will have every want provided for. And so they do.

For Cavor wants to go to the moon, in the interests of pure science, and he convinces the reluctant Bedford to come along with the tempting thought that perhaps the moon will yield valuable materials for export back to Earth. “Science!” cries Cavor. “Vast profits!” thinks Bedford, and off they go.

I shan’t go into detail of what they find on the moon, or how their adventures continue. I will merely tell you that the moon proves to be mostly hollow, full of tunnels and chambers and passages, with a huge subterranean ocean at its core, and it is inhabited by ant-like beings who live on the flesh of fungus-grazing “mooncalves”.

Oh, yes. There is also gold.

After some adventuring, Bedford and Cavor inadvertently part ways, with Bedfor returning to the space vessel, and “accidentally” (is it or isn’t it?) triggering its relaunch back to Earth, leaving Cavor at the mercy of the ant-people.

Now Bedford feels kind of bad for poor Cavor, but he quashes remorse and gets on with his own affairs, helped along by the large quantity of pure gold he has luckily managed to bring back with him.

Imagine then his surprise to find that Cavor is sill alive on the moon, and has been cared for by the Selenites/Moonies, and has crafted a wireless device capable of broadcasting details of moon-life back to Earth. And then, faintly and fading fast, comes a message concerning an intended invasion…

<Cue foreboding music.>

Did I like this book?

Hmmm.

Parts of it were fun, but in generally I have to say no, not entirely. It was well written and often drily humorous, but I soon found myself slightly bored with it, and instead of poring over every word I found myself skimming the very detailed descriptions of lunar flora and fauna and the inner workings of the anthill, as it were.

H.G. Wells undoubtedly had an ingenious sense of invention, and I am happy to give credit where it’s due, but I personally found this tale a bit of a slog. I don’t think I’ll be diving into any of his other sci-fi fantasias anytime soon, though I think I’d be open to more mild exploration at a later date, if ever the occasion arises. (Such as needing to fill a year on the Century of Books, for example.)

His other, more conventional novels are much more to my taste, and I will happily continue to broaden my acquaintance with those as opportunity allows.

So. The First Men in the Moon.

My rating: 5.5/10

 

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