I have yet to meet an H. G. Wells book that I didn’t like, and First Men in the Moon is no exception. His scientific romances are always full of interesting concepts and he was all for turning Victorian ideals on their heads even during his own time.
When I was making my list of books to read I repeatedly called this one First Men on the Moon by mistake, but truly it is a tale of going deep inside the Moon to visit a strange, insect-like race that inhabits its Swiss cheese like interior. During Wells time, astronomers already knew that the Moon was made up of material similar to that of the Earth, but they also knew it was only about 1/3 the density. Their highly logical, though we know now totally wrong, conclusion was that the moon must be filled with tunnels that ran deep into the sphere. (In case you are interested, we know now that the Moon was basically made from an impact way back in Earth’s infancy, long before water had condensed on the surface. A large portion of the crust of the Earth was thrown into space and reconglomerated into a new sphere, leaving our iron core behind. The core of the Earth accounts for the difference in density.)
People first reach the moon thanks to an ingenious new metal called Cavorite, which is so named for the Doctor Cavor who creates it. His concept is that there are materials that are “opaque” to difference electromagnetic forces like light, and gravity is another such force. By combining different metals and chemicals, he is able to create a metal sphere that carries himself and the narrator off on their adventure to a Moon far different from what the Apollo astronauts found. Wells explanations of the natural history of the moon and its various species is especially enchanting if you have any biology in your background because the system of their society holds together with a totally inhuman but wonderful logic all its own.
I would definitely recommend this book, it was a fast and interesting read. I thought his portrayal of the detached and socially inept scientist Cavor was especially interesting, as well as seeing how the narrator and Cavor both interpret the same events differently.
By the way, did you know that many of Wells books are no longer under copyright, so you can get them for free? I read my copy on a Free Books app for my Surface, but you can also find them many places online.
To help me get ready for the H.G. Wells Sourcebook I am going to write for Steam Tour: An American Steampunk in London, I decided to read several of his scientific romances. I read the Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau several months ago, but it is always interesting to read an author’s whole canon in quick succession. My goal is to read War of the Worlds, First Men in the Moon, Tales of Space and Time and The Door in the Wall at minimum before the ezine comes out, but if you think I am missing something even better than what is on that list let me know!
My experience with War of the Worlds was a bit backwards, because I read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2, and the events of that book are closely related to Wells classic tale, and very faithfully adapted it turns out.
Like many of Wells books, this story started as a serial in magazines rather than as a novel from the beginning. The serial ran during 1897 and it was later compiled into a book in 1898. It is divided into two parts, The Coming of the Martians and Earth Under the Martians. The name of the Surrey-based narrator is never revealed, and he tells the harrowing adventure through his eyes as well as through his brother’s account of what happens to London itself when Martians descend and start an invasion.
One thing that I love about Wells stories is how much of the scientific knowledge of the times he includes in his tales. For instance, the arrival of the Martians is preceded by strange explosions visible on the surface of the red planet, and it takes the Martian pods several weeks to arrive to the outskirts of London. It then takes over a day for the metal to cool down enough for the pods to open. In the meantime, people have started to gather and even sell refreshments around the first pit where they crash-landed. I love that detail, and I absolutely believe it would happen that way. Soon, the festival atmosphere turns to terror when the Martians assemble their deadly heat ray, our narrator only escaping because he had been sent on an errand and was not in the pit with the scientists who first try to make contact. Through a series of near-misses and some quick thinking, the narrator survives the first wave of attacks by the be-tentacled Martians and their huge fighting machines, and tells the story of (in his view) the apex of society falling to pieces in the face of a cold and calculating enemy. He is surprisingly pragmatic about the whole affair, often likening the human race to insects or rodents who are disturbed by the machinations of people. This is not true of most of the people he meets on his way though, and there are several different kinds of madness worked into the narrative.
This is a tale of invasion, but also of devotion between a husband and wife, which took me by surprise. I have only just started to look at Wells personal life, but he carried on a number of affairs during his second marriage after divorcing his first wife, so the commitment shown by the narrator seems inconsistent with what I know of the author.
The first time I ever heard of War of the Worlds it was the story of its broadcast on Halloween 1938. The accounts vary, but in the days following several newspapers reported a wave of fearful folks who believed a real invasion was taking place. They opted to present 40 minutes of the hour-long tale as a series of simulated news bulletins, and this coupled with a lack of commercial breaks added to the realism. There was a disclaimer at the beginning of the show, but anyone who tuned in late could have gotten the impression that they were hearing something that was going on in real time. Most likely, the newspaper accounts of a panicked populace were blown out of proportion because of the competition between traditional print media and the new radio technology. (What?! The news was sensationalized? Never!)
I can definitely see why this book has been adapted and re-adapted several times and in different media. The aliens and their technology remains alien and stands the test of time better than say, First Men in the Moon. It is definitely worth a read, not just because it is a classic but because it is a genuinely interesting social commentary that transcends the time in which it was written.
Have you read it or seen a movie version? What did you think?
Your favorite cohort of Steampunk heroes is back in another installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen!
Our story starts on the surface of Mars where literary heroes Gulliver Jones (Lieut. Gulliver Jones: His Vacation, 1905) and John Carter (Princess of Mars, 1917) are organizing a resistance against an alien race of foreign origin that is trying to invade. All too quickly their struggle ends with the aliens on their way to the homeland of those who oppose them: Earth.
We meet up with Ms. Murray, Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man and the ever so dubious Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde when they are called in to investigate an impact crater in the countryside. Tentacled aliens make short work of the white flag waving humans who try to make contact, and the league retreats for the evening. The Invisible Man slips unseen through the darkness (like a dark unseeable slippy thing) to meet with the aliens in secret, and through the ingenious use of scribbling pictures in the dirt he becomes their ally. After getting his intell, the aliens mount an attack from craters all over England using the giant walking tripods they built to protect their soft, molluscky bodies.
While Nemo and Hyde keep London safe from the attacking hordes, Mina and Allan are sent on a mission to retrieve a special weapon from the infamous Dr. Moreau (The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1896). Relationships are reshaped and bodies broken in the pages leading up to the exciting conclusion of this installment of Alan Moore‘s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
I liked this book, but I preferred the first “LXG”. There were some very interesting moments between Hyde and Mina, and between Mina and Allan, but I wanted an enemy that was less unambiguously evil than killer aliens that just wanted to blow stuff up. The double crossing and false identities in the first one made for an interesting and complex story, which was really what I was looking for in my sequel rather than a romantic entanglement between the doddering Quartermain and Mina. (Yep, there is totally grandpa sex in this book) I usually really like to see my characters grow and change, but it is tricky with this concept of bringing all of these fully-formed characters together because too much deviation by Moore could feel like a betrayal to the original.
In addition to the main story, there is an additional material like the New Traveller’s Almanac that informs the reader all about the world of LXG and more literary reference fun.
If you haven’t read it, check out my reviews of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1.