H. G. Wells Module Week 2: The First Men in the Moon (1901) Part I

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

H. G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon
Published in 1901.

Journey to Moon often appeared in fantastic fiction: Lucian of Samosata, Kepler's Somnium (1634), Francis Godwin (1638), Cyrano de Bergerac (1657), Poe, "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" (1835), Jules Verne, De la terre a la lune (1865), George Griffiths, A Honeymoon in Space (1901) etc.

* Often used as satire or utopian speculation.
* Comic, playful tone: see description of Cavor (ch 1).
* Detachment of the space journey. (chs 4/5).
* Pseudo-science of "cavorite". Used in the same way as later writers talk about "FTL-drives". Time passes more quickly on the Moon than on earth (ch 18). PKD's story in which the rate of time is different on the planets.
* Description of the first day on the moon. Imaginative re-creation of something no-one else has seen, or will see for nearly 70 years. Compare Wells's description of tropical scenarios in stories like "Aepyornis Island" or "The Empire of the Ants": scenarios he equally had not seen but which he had read about.
* Cavor the impractical scientist, Bedford the businessman who wants to exploit Cavor's invention. His first thought is the commercial exploitation of the Moon.
* Colonialism: compare first chapter of The War of the Worlds.
* Gender: No female characters (apart from some oblique glances at female Selenites). Bedford and Cavor take "masculine" and "feminine" roles: see the escape (ch 17). Bedford taking the aggressive role, violent and forceful. Cavor constantly calling "Bedford".
* Social Roles: Conditioning of the Selenites. The darker social satire of the last chapters showing us the Moon-life. Workers physically transformed to be suitable for their tasks, put to sleep when there is no work for them to do. cf Swift, "Modest Proposal". See also Evgenii Zamyatin's essay "Herbert Wells" (1922) (reprinted in Parrinder, H. G. Wells: The Critical Heritage).
* The Body: The insectile, oozing Selenites (ch 15), parodying the human form (ch12: "The Selenite's Face").

The First Men in the Moon is brought by Jet Morgan and read out while the crew of Luna are stranded on the Moon in the 1953 BBC radio serial Journey into Space (ch 7 of novel version).

Arthur C. Clarke, A Fall of Moondust (1961)
See John Hollow, Against the Night, the Stars: The Science Fiction of Arthur C. Clarke: frequent likening of Clarke's stories and novels to those of Wells.

* Focus upon the physicality of the Moon. Another collapse into an underworld. But the Moon here is the Moon of the 50s: no possibility of life. "What a pity there were no native Selenites with quaint customs and quainter physiques at which visitors could click their cameras." (ch 1)

* Space Tourism. The Selene a boat -- see the constant "ocean" imagery, likening the dust-"sea" to a real sea -- tourists on a cruise. Pilot and stewardess "very smart in her blue Lunar Tourist Commission uniform." Description of the physical moon surface: a hostile environment. Safety checks.

* See Clarke's style: his focus upon physical description, often illuminated with an everyday simile, then rounded off with a meditative sentence (which often leads into next episode): "But none, until now, surely, had ever had his life-span metered out by a fountain of rising dust." (ch 6). On Tom Lawson viewing the earth by visible light and infra-red: "... for which Earth was 'real' -- the perfect crescent visible to the eye, the tattered mushroom glowing in the far infra-red -- or neither?" [Pause: then change of scene.] See the conclusion of 2001: "But he would think of something."

A hard-sf story of the failure of technology (See Westfahl, Cosmic Engineers) but Clarke is concerned with the beauty and awesomeness of the moon, as opposed to:

Robert A. Heinlein, "The Man Who Sold the Moon" (1949)
* Heinlein's "competent man": the man (nearly always a man) who gets things done by understanding how things operate. No sentimental illusions about human nature.

* Commercial exploitation. The Moon as symbol -- we do not see a landing on it at all: the story ends with the take-off, funded by private finance. Not the vision of a genius inventor: that of the businessman who knows that however much it costs, more can be made.

* "Sometimes I think he's the last of the Robber Barons." ... "Not the last ... he's the first of the new Robber Barons." (pt 8)

* The popular image of business tycoons such as Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford, the influence of Herbert Spencer's Social-Darwinism on laissez-faire individualist capitalism in the USA as it moves through Taylorism to Fordism and increasing corporate control: See Mark Jancovitch, Rational Fears: American Horror in the 1950s.

* Harriman a more competent Bedford in the setting of Capitalist America. He "buys" Coster and allows him to come up with the technical ideas.

* Pt 3: "I want an angle to squeeze dimes out of the school kids." Such an approach was seriously planned last year for a European Union Millennium Moon-shot. Commercial advantages of the Moon: adverts, lack of censorship for broadcasting.

* Business more competent than Government: Harriman's conversation with Montgomery (pt 3): "The Moon was not meant to be owned by a single country." National ownership of the moon would cause tensions: Business would be nudged out.

* Harriman's tragedy is that he does not go on the moon expedition (he finally does, in "Requiem" (1939). [Note date] "There were lots of boys like me ... the kind of boys who thought there was more romance in one issue of Electrical Experimenter than in all the books Dumas ever wrote. We ... wanted to build space-ships."

* On Heinlein's approach to business-labour relations in general, see Farah Mendlesohn, "Corporatism and the Corporate Ethos in Robert Heinlein's 'The Road Must Roll'" (in Speaking Science Fiction). On Heinlein and Social-Darwinism, see, among others, Philip E. Smith, "The Evolution of Politics and the Politics of Evolution: Social Darwinism in Heinlein's Fiction" in J. Olander and M. H. Greenberg, eds., Robert A. Heinlein.

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