The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells

…and no cheese to be found…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Mr Bedford’s financial difficulties become pressing, he leaves London for the quiet of the Kentish countryside to write a play which he is sure will win him fame and fortune, despite him never having written anything before. Instead, he meets his new neighbour Mr Cavor, an eccentric scientist, and becomes intrigued and excited by the possibilities of the invention Cavor is working on – a substance that will defy gravity. Bedford, always with an eye for the main chance, begins to imagine the commercial possibilities of such a substance, but Cavor is more interested in the glory that he will gain from the scientific community. And so it is that these two mismatched men find themselves as partners on an incredible voyage – to the Moon!

….I do not remember before that night thinking at all of the risks we were running. Now they came like that array of spectres that once beleaguered Prague, and camped around me. The strangeness of what we were about to do, the unearthliness of it, overwhelmed me. I was like a man awakened out of pleasant dreams to the most horrible surroundings. I lay, eyes wide open, and the sphere seemed to get more flimsy and feeble, and Cavor more unreal and fantastic, and the whole enterprise madder and madder every moment.
….I got out of bed and wandered about. I sat at the window and stared at the immensity of space. Between the stars was the void, the unfathomable darkness!

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying revisiting some of the HG Wells stories I enjoyed in my youth, and reading for the first time the ones I missed back then. As with the others, I read the Oxford World’s Classics version, which has the usual informative and enjoyable introduction, this time from Simon J James, Professor of Victorian Literature and Head of the Department of English Studies at Durham University, which sets the book in its historical and literary context. This is one I hadn’t read before and perhaps it’s fair to say it’s one of the less well known ones, though only in comparison to the universal fame of some of the others, like The War of the Worlds or The Time Machine. While I think it hasn’t got quite the depth of those, it’s at least as enjoyable, if not more so.

Mostly this is because of the characterisation and the interplay between the two men, which give the book a lot of humour. Bedford, our narrator, is rather a selfish cad without too much going on in the way of ethics or heroism, but I found him impossible to dislike. He’s so honest about his own personality, not apologising for it, but not hypocritically trying to make himself seem like anything other than what he is – someone who’s out for what he can get. Cavor also has some issues with ethics, though in his case it’s not about greed. He’s one of these scientists who is so obsessed with his own theories and experiments, he doesn’t much care what impact they might have on other people – even the possibility that he might accidentally destroy the world seems like an acceptable risk to him. He simply won’t tell the world it’s in danger, so nobody has to worry about it.

….“It’s this accursed science,” I cried. “It’s the very Devil. The mediæval priests and persecutors were right and the Moderns are all wrong. You tamper with it—and it offers you gifts. And directly you take them it knocks you to pieces in some unexpected way. Old passions and new weapons—now it upsets your religion, now it upsets your social ideas, now it whirls you off to desolation and misery!”

To a large degree, this is a straightforward adventure novel with a great story and lots of danger and excitement. But, being Wells, there are also underlying themes relating to contemporary concerns: primarily two, in this case. Firstly, through Cavor’s invention of Cavorite (the name gives an indication of Cavor’s desire for glory, I feel!), Wells looks at the huge leaps that were being made in the fields of science and technology and issues a warning that, while these promise great progress for mankind, they also threaten potential catastrophe if the science isn’t tempered by ethical controls. Secondly, through the race of beings that Cavor and Bedford find when they arrive on the moon, Wells speculates on a form of society so utopian in its social control that it becomes positively terrifying! He uses this society, though, as a vehicle to comment on the less than utopian situation back on Earth, though I couldn’t help feeling he frequently had his tongue stuck firmly in his cheek as he did so.

….The stuff was not unlike a terrestrial mushroom, only it was much laxer in texture, and, as one swallowed it, it warmed the throat. At first we experienced a mere mechanical satisfaction in eating; then our blood began to run warmer, and we tingled at the lips and fingers, and then new and slightly irrelevant ideas came bubbling up in our minds.
….“It’s good,” said I. “Infernally good! What a home for our surplus population! Our poor surplus population,” and I broke off another large portion.

But the themes are treated more lightly in this one, and Wells allows his imagination free rein. One of the things I enjoyed most was how he includes a lot of realistic science even as he creates an impossible substance in Cavorite and an equally impossible race of moon-beings, the Selenites. Of course we’ve all looked down on Earth from planes now, but Wells imagines how it would look from space. He describes convincingly how to control a sphere covered in Cavorite by using gravity and the slingshot effect of planetary mass. He describes the weightlessness of zero gravity brilliantly, many decades before anyone had experienced it. His Selenites are a vision of evolved insect life, which frankly gave me the shivers, especially when he describes how they are bred, reared and surgically altered to happily fulfil a single function in life – a kind of precursor of the humans in Brave New World but with insect faces and arms!

I won’t give spoilers as to what happens to the men, but the ending gives a minor commentary on one of Wells’ other recurring themes – man’s tendency to look on other people’s territory as fair game for invasion and colonisation. But since you’re now thinking – but wait! That IS a spoiler! I assure you it’s really not, but you’ll have to read the book to find out why it’s not. Or you could just read it because it’s a great read – lots of humour, great descriptive writing, enough depth to keep it interesting without overwhelming the story, a couple of characters you can’t help liking even though you feel you shouldn’t, and plenty of excitement. What are you waiting for? Jump aboard the Cavorite sphere – you don’t get the chance to go to the Moon every day of the week!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Book 25 of 90

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37 thoughts on “The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells

  1. Well this sounds like jolly good fun! I haven’t read this one and it sounds delightful. I like the characters enormously already. I’m no sci-fi fan, but this sounds great 🙂

  2. This does sound like a lot of fun, FictionFan! And I’ve always liked Wells’ imagination and ability to get readers to ‘buy into’ what he was dreaming up. I also like that he has a way of commenting on humanity without it feeling like a revival meeting.

    • I think I enjoyed this one most of them all so far even though (or maybe because) it feels a bit lighter. I felt he was sending himself up a bit in the character of the caddish Bedford from time to time, which added to the humour. I really had forgotten how much I loved Wells, so it’s been great fun rediscovering him. 😀

  3. Though I’ve never read this book, I can’t help thinking of C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy now. You have me curious at least. Some books seem so dated, and I wondered if this one was. But you enjoyed it, so there’s hope.

    • Funnily enough I couldn’t get through Lewis’s trilogy – I gave up halfway through the first book. Can’t remember why now to be honest – it was many years ago. Maybe I should try it again sometime. Wells’ writing style doesn’t feel dated at all and although obviously some of the science is wrong, the imagination more than makes up for it… 😀

  4. Even though it’s not the usual type of thing I would read, this sounds so much fun. I love how characters in books around this time retire to.the country to write plays. I’d love to do that!

    • Haha – I suspect your play would turn out better than Bedford’s! 😉 I must say I’ve been thoroughly enjoying revisiting Wells – a great mixture of entertainment, adventure and the added depth of his commentary on the concerns of the time. 😀

  5. I’ve really enjoyed you enjoying Wells! I can’t think why I didn’t force-feed you more of him – I always loved his SF, and I think the issues he raises still resonate. I own a very old history of the Great War which Wells edited and for which he wrote a number of the chapters, and his concern about the way science was taking the world, particularly its use in warfare, are very clear.

    • I thought I had read more of them than I actually had. It must just be that they’re so much part of the cultural landscape that they seem familiar even if I haven’t read them. I was sure I must have read this one, but as soon as I started it, I knew I hadn’t. I also can’t remember if I’ve ever actually read The Invisible Man which is the next on my list – and sadly the last of the OWC ones! *sniffs* Yes, he’s pretty clear that he thinks science will be a great force, but whether for good or bad is up to us. A message that’s just as relevant today…

    • Hurrah! 😀 I’ve loved them all, but I must say this is the one I’ve found most entertaining so far – the themes are still there, but the actual story and characters are more fun. I do hope you enjoy it!

    • Hahaha! I’ve become a bit of a Wells fangirl recently, haven’t I? Well, I’ll let you read Dr Moreau first, and then WHEN you LOVE it, I’ll start twisting your arm on the rest… 😉

  6. You are rattling through your CC list at the moment! So gad you enjoyed this one, it sounds like the characters and their interaction greatly added something special to the story. Unsurprisingly I hadn’t come across this one although I have actually read some of this author’s work.

    • I’m being so disciplined at the moment! It can’t possibly last! I must admit I sneaked this one onto my CC list to replace another one that I abandoned after a few chapters (not GwtW – another sci-fi one). This is the Wells I’ve found most entertaining so far – it’s maybe not as deep as some of the others, but it’s more fun! 😀

  7. His books sound like a lot of fun. And it’s always fun to read about what past writers thought the future would look like, or what kind of beings could be living on different planets. I have to say, though, that if I were on the moon (or any other planet/celestial body) I would NOT try eating anything there – especially things that resemble mushrooms!

    • I’ve been thoroughly enjoying getting to know Wells better. I remembered from my youth that I enjoyed his writing style and imagination, but it’s only this time round that I’ve really realised how much depth there is in his stories too. Hahaha – it did make me laugh when the mushrooms began to make them woozy! Could Wells have been aware of magic mushrooms way back then? I wonder… 😀

  8. Did you know that H.G.Wells has a crater on the moon named after him in recognition of this story? It was named some time in the 1970’s. This is such an enjoyable review to read – it’s made me really want to check out this book. I got rather fixated on ‘The War Of The Worlds’ as I needed to be very familiar with it for my audio book sequel which I have called ‘The Day Of The Martians’. You have certainly persuaded me to read ‘The First Men In The Moon’. Funny how he says ‘in’ the moon whereas these days we say ‘on’ the moon.

    • Really? How great – I bet he’d have been thrilled by that! Thank you – the book doesn’t have quite the depth of The War of the Worlds, but I actually found it more entertaining. It’s almost like one of Conan Doyle’s adventure stories for a big part of it. Aha! There is a specific reason why it’s ‘in’ rather than ‘on’. The Selenites live underground – Wells’ way of getting round why no-one had ever caught sight of their civilisation via telescopes… 😀 Good luck with the audiobook – I enjoyed listening to the first couple of chapters.

  9. Normally a ‘science fiction’ book like this wouldn’t appeal to me, but reading science fiction that was written back in the day is absolutely fascinating. I love seeing how people thought our society may have evolved by now, which is to say, we are probably simply disappointing if those people could see us now LOL

    • Ha! Yes, we might have all the technology now but we still seem perfectly capable of making a total mess of the world! What with his fear of mad scientists, Wells might just be impressed that we’ve still managed to survive at all… 😉

  10. Your review reminds me of a science fiction/fantasy class I took in college. We were looking back in history, so of course all the sci fi was older, but I couldn’t help but notice the curiosity in old sci fi, the inventiveness of it. Now, it seems like writers are largely relying on a leap of faith in science fiction, especially all these bio-terror science fiction novels, about plants or a disease killing people and turning them into zombies. Yes, it’s true that there is a parasite that abducts ant brains and turns them into “zombies,” but that’s all the reasoning for a global human zombie plague. I feel like the science is now missing in science fiction. Maybe that’s why everyone went nutty over The Martian by Andy Weir?

    • I think the advent of popular science books and google have kinda wrecked sci-fi as a genre. Either authors have to be boringly accurate or nit-picking people (like me) will criticise, whereas older writers would blend real science with made up stuff and no-one much cared. I suspect that’s why so many authors turn to fantasy or dystopia – or tedious wars in space – rather than sci-fi adventures. And I totally agree about The Mrtian – in fact, I think I commented in my review that it read like a good old-fashioned sci-fi adventure story…

    • Yay! I’ve enjoyed reading/re-reading them way more than I expected! No wonder they’re considered classics. And now you know, you can always pack your own cheese…

    • Ha! I do my best to convert my blog buddies to a bit of classic sci-fi, but mostly I fail! 😉 The Invisible Man next, so I’ll see if I can get them with that one… 🙂

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