I love H. G. Wells, I do, and yet I find myself loving his works more in theory than in practise. No book better represents why (of the books I have read so far) than The first men in the moon, and yet I would recommend everyone who loves Science Fiction, space, adventure or anything technological to read this book. It truly shows Wells wonderful qualities as a writer, with a mixture of part Sci-Fi adventure and part social commentary.
In a way it’s a very typical Wells’ book and very similar to The Time Machine. Both start of with a scientist debating the possibility of a scientific feat, in The Time Machine it’s time-travel, in The first men in the moon it’s about creating a gas to counteract gravity. The books then go on to describe an adventure that happens after the scientific feat has been accomplished, which is also a commentary on social inequality. In The Time Travel it’s the fear that we will become two different species (like how the gap between the higher and lower social classes are getting wider), and in The first men in the moon it’s about imperialism (this is one of his favourite topics). The Time Machine is not that dated, The first men in the moon unfortunately is.
Don’t get me wrong. The start was interesting and I was fully on board for the first scientific feat, the creation of the gas to counteract gravity. Is there such a gas? I don’t know, probably not. Then again gravity is one of the weakest forces in the world. I can counteract the whole of the worlds pull on me, and I do that every time I jump. I can’t jump far or for long, but I can and I do. I am in part stronger than the whole gravity of the world. Such a gas is improbable, but not impossible. That is the magic of good science fiction. That is the magic of Wells’s work. You know it probably wouldn’t happen and yet part of you think that maybe it could. Then the story moves to the moon and I hate saying it, but for me we move from the improbable, to the impossible. This is not Wells’s fault. The book was written in 1901, I live in a time way after the moon-landing. I want to believe, I really do, because Wells is such a great writer. His writing reminds me of a journalist, which build credibility to his style of improbable, but not impossible tales. He writes as if this is a resent discovery, and the party-pooper part of my brain is like “nope, the moon is not like that. We have been there, or a handful of trained astronauts have been there, even if it was only a pissing contest between Soviet and US, but people have been there and this is not how the moon is”.
“Over me, about me, closing in on me, embracing me ever nearer, was the Eternal, that which was before the beginning and that which triumphs over the end; that enormous void in which all light and life and being is but the thin and vanishing splendour of a falling star, the cold, the stillness, the silence, – the infinite and final Night of space.” – chapter 19
Despite this I still love the book. I love the book for what it was in it’s own time. I love the social commentary it has. Yes, it’s about imperialism and you might think that wouldn’t be relevant, but it is. While we might not have empires any more, you can make a good argument that there is cultural globalisation happening and that it is a form of imperialism. American popular culture have become global, and popular culture always brings with it ideas and morals about how we should and shouldn’t be. There can also be a discussion about how the global south, especially, have been represented in western media as less developed, more exotic and more “savage”. Yet we in the west, due to internet and travel, now start to question this “othering”. The savage “other” of Africa and South-America is starting to be replaced by an idea of people who live lives very similar to people in the west, and at the same time with their own culture and distinction. The idea of the “other” as being just as developed as us, to our surprise, works both regarding the imperialism and regarding world. As technology is creating a new kind of imperialism, it also means meeting the “other” in the same way the first wave of imperialism did.
“He sighed and looked about him. ‘This is no world for men,’ he said. ‘And yet in a way…it appeals.” chapter 9.
Especially regarding that “as developed” isn’t the same as “developed in the same way”, which means we are forced to question what “developed” actually means. These questions are littered throughout the book, and the book is worth reading for that reason alone (you know, if you disregard Wells’s wonderful writing style, dramatic building and interesting characters).
Wells is probably the writer I most want to have read in his time, because I would have loved to be fully swept by his stories on their premise and not be ruined by party-pooper “that-can’t-happen” brain. More than that, I would have loved to see what he would have written today, both regarding the scientific feats he would have thought out based on the technology available and also what his social commentary would have been.
Gutenberg.org – https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1013
Librivox.org – https://librivox.org/the-first-men-in-the-moon-by-hg-wells/