Author: H. G. Wells (1866 –1946)
Publisher: Dover Publications Inc (2001 Edition)
Bought from: NoQ Store
Herbert George Wells, better known as H. G. Wells, is one of the most influential early science fiction writers. Many of his works are still read and adapted even today.
Wells was born in England to a working class family. He was an avid reader during his childhood. He secured a scholarship in 1883 to the Normal School of Science (now part of Imperial College, London) where he studied biology under Thomas Henry Huxley, the grandfather of Aldous Huxley. After he was finally conferred his degree in 1980, he embarked on his prodigious writing career. In 1895, The Time Machine (1895) became a commercial success. Wells followed that up with a now-legendary series of early scifi classics, The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men in the Moon (1901). This set led to Wells being known as the Father of Science Fiction alongside Jules Verne (1828 – 1905).
In the new millennium, Wells’ non-fiction oeuvre became more prominent. This included Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought (1901) in which he envisioned, inter alia, economic globalisation; The World Set Free (1914) in which he described the splitting of the atom and the creation of the atomic bomb; and The Outline of History (1920) in which Wells’ survey of history from the creation of earth to WWI concluded with the portent of another world war. The uncanny accuracy of some of Wells’ predictions led to him being known also as the Father of Futurism.
He became an active socialist and was a firm believer in a world government.
What is the about?
Cavor, a scientist, invented a substance that is “opaque” (ie resistant) to gravitation (p 9 – 10). He and the narrator, a failed businessman named Bedford, flew to the moon in a sphere made from the material. There, they discovered a subterranean civilisation of insectoid creatures. So, the protagonists were indeed the first men in the moon.
H. G. Wells’ science fiction works were influenced by the time he lived in. The Industrial Revolution (c 1760 – 1840) paved the way to amazing scientific, technology and engineering advances, including massive improvements in modes of transportation. Steamships and railways (both first used in the previous century) entered the modern age during the 19th century. The first inter-city railway line in the world (Liverpool – Manchester) opened in 1830 while the first inter-city line into London (London – Birmingham) opened in 1838, one year after the coronation of Queen Victoria. In 1819, the steamer/sailing ship hybrid SS Savannah became the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. The SS Sirius, a purpose-built steamer, took just over 18 days to sail from Cork, Ireland to New York in 1838; by the 1890s, ocean liners were making transatlantic crossings in about 5 days. Aviation was, however, still in its infancy: Count von Zepellin launched the first of the airships that would carry his name in 1900 and the Wright Brothers would carry out the first sustained, controlled, powered aircraft flight in 1903. Space travel was pure fantasy in the 19th century. Jules Verne beat Wells to this idea with his novel De la terre à la lune or From the Earth to the Moon (1865). Neither Verne nor Wells lived to see the first manned space flight on Vostok 1 (12 April 1961) or the first men to reach the moon via Apollo 11 (21 July 1969).
Another technology that was emerging during Wells’ lifetime was radio transmission. Nikola Tesla pioneered the field of transmission of radio waves but history remembers Guglielmo Marconi′s reported trans-Atlantic transmission in 1901. In The First Men on the Moon, Wells described a radio transmission from the moon to earth (p 129) and then described the Selenites’ jamming of the transmission (p 158–9)
Even though he most likely never actually experienced weightlessness, Wells demonstrated his uncanny power of prediction with his description of the phenomenon: “Then I perceived an unaccountable change in my bodily sensations. It was a feeling of lightness, of unreality. Coupled with that was a queer sensation in the head, an apoplectic effect almost, and a thumping of blood vessels at the ears” (p 27).
In The First Men on the Moon, Cavor was a benign man of science resembling more the narrator in The Time Machine and less the mad scientists in The Island of Doctor Moreau and The Invisible Man. Bedford on the other hand was a homo economicus, a failed businessman who jumped at the possibility for the commercial exploitation of Cavor’s technology: “I saw a parent company, and daughter companies, applications to right of us, applications to left, rings and trusts, privileges, and concessions spreading and spreading, until one vast, stupendous Cavorite company ran and ruled the world” (p 10). Given Wells’ socialist leaning, it is surprising that Bedford is not a more obvious villain.
Wells’ political views can be gleaned from his expository passages on the rigidly-hierarchical society of the Selenites (Chaps 23 – 25). For instance, he appeared to admire the way worker Selenites who are not needed simply go into a form of hibernation until they are called on as compared to the practice in capitalist England and America: “To drug the worker one does not want and toss him aside is surely far better than to expel him from his factory to wander starving in the streets. In every complicated social community there is necessarily a certain intermittency of employment for all specialised labour, and in this way the trouble of an ‘unemployed’ problem is altogether anticipated” (p 147).
What about the book?
This is a Dover Thrift Edition so there is nothing by way of additional materials. Five of Wells’ best known novellas are marketed as part of a boxed set. Wells’ science fiction works are in the public domain. But this set of 5 books for $10.78 is reasonably priced.
The novel was written just over a century ago. Some of the words and phrases will be a little alien to today’s readers but this is not insurmountable. The story is fresh and well-paced.