Saturday, 24 September 2016

The First Men in the Moon by H G Wells

The First Men in the Moon is a scientific romance published in 1901 by the English author H G Wells, who called it one of his ‘fantastic stories’.

Menmoonfront.jpgfrontispiece of 1906 edition

The narrator is Mr Bedford, a London businessman who withdraws to the countryside to write a play, by which he hopes to alleviate his financial problems. Bedford befriends Mr Cavor, a reclusive scientist, and learns he is developing a new material, cavorite, which can negate the force of gravity.

When a sheet of cavorite is prematurely processed, it makes the air above it weightless and shoots off into space. Cavor hits upon the idea of a spherical spaceship made of ‘steel, lined with glass’, and with sliding ‘windows or blinds’ made of cavorite by which it can be steered, and persuades a reluctant Bedford to undertake a voyage to the moon; Cavor is certain there is no life there.

On the way to the moon, they experience weightlessness, which Bedford finds ‘exceedingly restful’. On the surface of the moon the two men discover a desolate landscape, but as the sun rises, the thin, frozen atmosphere vaporizes and strange plants begin to grow with extraordinary rapidity. Bedford and Cavor leave the capsule, but get lost in the rapidly growing jungle. They hear a mysterious booming coming from underground. They encounter great fat beasts that they call ‘mooncalves’, and five-foot-high insectoids they call ‘Selenites’ (after Selene, the moon goddess) tending them.

The Selenites are part of a complex and technologically sophisticated society that lives underground. Bedford and Cavor are captured but break out of captivity beneath the surface of the moon and flee, killing several Selenites. In their flight they discover that gold is common on the moon. Back on the surface, they split up to search for their spaceship. Bedford finds it but returns to Earth without Cavor, who injured himself in a fall and was recaptured by the Selenites, as Bedford learns from a hastily scribbled note he left behind.

The First Men in the Moon film

By good fortune, Bedford lands in the sea off the coast of Britain, not far from his point of departure. His fortune is made by some gold he brings back, but he loses the sphere when a curious boy named Tommy Simmons climbs into the unattended sphere and shoots off into space. Bedford writes and publishes his story in The Strand Magazine, then learns that a Dutch electrician has picked up fragments of radio communications from Cavor sent from inside the moon. During a period of relative freedom Cavor has taught two Selenites English and learned much about lunar society.

Unfortunately, Cavor reveals humanity's propensity for war; the lunar leader and those listening to the interview are ‘stricken with amazement’. Bedford infers that it is for this reason that Cavor has been prevented from further broadcasting to Earth. Cavor's transmissions are cut off as he is trying to describe how to make cavorite. His final fate is unknown, but Bedford is sure that ‘we shall never… receive another message from the moon’.

[adapted from Wikipedia] 

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