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The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells
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The First Men in the Moon (1901)

by H. G. Wells

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    A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (artturnerjr)
    artturnerjr: Two early 20th century works of speculation on extraterrestrial life from two of the great unfettered imaginations of English-language literature.
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English (31)  Danish (1)  All languages (32)
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'One might go to the moon.'
     'And when one got there! What would you find?'
     'We should see – ! Oh! Consider the new knowledge!'
     'Is there air there?'
     'There may be.'
     I shook my head. 'It's a fine idea,' I said, 'but it strikes me as a large order all the same.'
(29)

This is the most significant of Wells's scientific romances that somehow I somehow did not read as a child, one of the prototypical lunar exploration stories. I think you see in it the transition from the earlier, macabre Wells to the later, more comic Wells. This doesn't have the darkness and urgency of Wells's 1890s scientific romances; its opening has more in common with the comic worlds of The Food of the Gods (1904), The War in the Air (1908), and The History of Mr Polly (1910), even if darkness and complexity rears its head as the story progresses.

The transformation of tone really works. The book begins with an unlikely pairing, Cavor and Bedford. As the above passage demonstrates, Cavor is a bit too abstracted for his own good, but Bedford, our narrator, is a bit too commercial for his. There's a lot of comic interplay as two very different men try to communicate with each other. Cavor doesn't care about the practical implications of antigravity at all, while Bedford can only imagine how to get rich off it; Cavor has never read Shakespeare because he only reads scientific papers, while Bedford never has because he only reads mass-produced trash like Tit-Bits. (Big Finish dramatizes this interplay very delightfully in their adaptation of the novel featuring Nigel Planer and Gethin Anthony. Their voices undoubtedly influenced the way I read Cavor and Bedford's dialogue.)

Once they go into space, things get darker, as they try to work out how to communicate with an alien species, to what turns out to be little benefit to humankind. It's one of those dark Wellsian satires, but perhaps not his best-- along this line, I think, say, The Sleeper Awakes (1910) is a better work. Still, the ending is a great one, perhaps Wells's most pessimistic... including the novels he wrote where the world is destroyed by nuclear war! The novel has some things to say about scientific knowledge, and why we pursue it, but it's not exactly flattering. Cavor himself is a typical abstracted scientist. I say "typical" but I feel like Wells was actually inventing, or at least perfecting, the type here. It's not all funny, given the unanticipated-but-perhaps-anticipatable consequences of Cavor's actions turn out to be quite dire. That's science and scientists for you, I suppose.

(My Penguin Classics edition has an introduction by science fiction writer China Miéville. It's excellent,* contextualizing the novel in the lunar exploration genre, in Wells's life and work, and in the genre of sf more broadly. I really liked what Miéville had to say about sf, perhaps because it is very similar to what I have to say about it, that there's a doubling effect. Sf is both metaphorical and literal: "the unreal will always be read metaphorically – what is the human mind but an engine to metaphorize and process metaphors intended and found? – but […] there is also pleasure in its literalism. […] [T]he enjoyment […] depends on the specific uncanny/estranging impact of literalizing the impossible: simply, it is a great, weird idea. Weirdness is good to think with, and it is also its own end." (xviii) I use Cordwainer Smith's "Scanners Live in Vain" when discussing this aspect of sf because it does this very well. It's both a metaphor-- it's about a man who can't communicate with his wife-- and a literal weirdness-- it's about the idea that space is so strange you need to cut off your sensations with machines in order to survive it. Miéville has given me some nice language to describe my phenomenon. Anyway, like the best introductions, Miéville's reveals a deeper understanding of the work in question, and I highly recommend it even as a standalone piece of writing.)

* Except for one error: when comparing The First Men in the Moon to the similar, earlier book A Plunge into Space, Miéville says Plunge was by Eric Cromie and published in 1880 (xiv), when in fact it was by Robert Cromie and published in 1890.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Jul 20, 2018 |
This novel is enjoyable for anyone with an imagination. What I was most impressed with was the fact that Wells wrote this well before anyone had extensive knowledge of the moon. His ability to create a whole world on the moon and portray it in a captivating way is extraordinary. The only negative comment I have is how it felt that the search for their landing site felt dragged on and uneventful. Besides that, I enjoyed the book and will definitely recommend to my friends. ( )
  shelbyherling | Mar 22, 2018 |
Great story.....shows the predictable nature of man. Wonder what happened to the little boy who went off in the sphere? Wells is great about leaving his characters on the cusp and the ending the story so you can use your own imagination. Well ahead of his time. ( )
  Joe73 | Oct 16, 2017 |
Would we have a colony on the Moon if it had gold and a native peoples to wipe out? We know the answer if they had oil.

Perennial conman, Bedford, has escaped his creditors by hiding in the countryside. Here he meets an inventor, Cavor, who is a genius with no idea what they are doing. Bedford cons Cavor into using his invention of Cavorite to fly to the Moon. Upon arrival they discover the moon is hollow and filled with Moonmen (but no Moonwomen..... not sure how that works). And gold. The meeting with the natives follows tradition...

I was disappointed with The First Men in the Moon. This novel was influential to people like CS Lewis, so I was expecting there to be a lot on offer (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_First_Men_in_the_Moon). There are a lot of interesting ideas on display in this novel, but there are also some truly bad ideas as well, even for the time this was written in. For example, Jules Verne criticised the use of Cavorite when both he and Wells had already utilised the more realistic idea of cannons for interplanetary travel. The story is also told in a way that isn't particularly engaging, particularly the last quarter, which is possibly the most drawn out way to tie up a loose end I've read.

This was also one of the many works of HG Wells that was accused of plagiarism. Twenty-six years prior, Robert Cromie had written A Plunge Into Space, which was heavily borrowed from but never acknowledged. Wells' contestations that he had never heard of Cromie nor his book would hold more weight if the accusations of plagiarism wasn't quite so common throughout Wells' career.

Skip this classic. ( )
  TysonAdams | Jun 20, 2017 |
Another early Wells - this one may have been part of the inspiration for Melies' A Trip to the Moon.
Part boys adventure story, part meditation on civilization, it is filled with brilliant imagery and Wells oddly prescient, but always enthusiastic imagination.

Like The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moons, concludes in a most chilling manner. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Wells, H. G.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ó Griobhtha, MícheálTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cinti, DecioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Clarke, Arthur C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davray, Henry-D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eggleton, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibb, KateCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grünau, Werner vonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guin, Ursula K. LeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lake, DavidEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ley, WillyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowndes, Robert A.W.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLean, StevenNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mieville, ChinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mikes, LajosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Parrinder, PatrickIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tiszay, AndorAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wells, FrankIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winters, HowardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zitzewitz, Hoot vonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As I sit down to write here amidst the shadows of vineleaves under the blue sky of southern Italy it comes to me with a certain quality of astonishment that my participation in these amazing adventures of Mr. Cavor was, after all, the outcome of the purest accident.
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So utterly at variance is destiny with all the little plans of men.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the main work for The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells. It should not be combined with any abridgement, adaptation, omnibus containing additional works, etc.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141441089, Paperback)

When penniless businessman Mr. Bedford retreats to the Kent coast to write a play, he meets by chance the brilliant Dr. Cavor, an absentminded scientist on the brink of developing a material that blocks gravity. Cavor soon succeeds in his experiments, only to tell a stunned Bedford that the invention makes possible one of the oldest dreams of humanity: a journey to the moon. With Bedford motivated by money, and Cavor by the desire for knowledge, the two embark on the expedition. But neither are prepared for what they find—a world of freezing nights, boiling days, and sinister alien life, in which they may be trapped forever.

First time in Penguin Classics
Includes a newly established text, a full biographical essay on Wells, suggestions for further reading, and detailed notes

 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:28 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"When penniless businessman Mr Bedford retreats to the Kent coast to write a play, he meets by chance the brilliant Dr Cavor, an absent-minded scientist on the brink of developing a material that blocks gravity. Cavor soon succeeds in his experiments, only to tell a stunned Bedford the invention makes possible one of the oldest dreams of humanity: a journey to the moon. With Bedford motivated by money and Cavor by the desire for knowledge, the two embark on the expedition. But neither are prepared for what they find - a world of freezing nights, boiling days and sinister alien life, on which they may be trapped forever."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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