The First Men in the Moon

The H. G. Wells series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): The First Men in the Moon, H. G. Wells, 1901.H G Wells

I had read this novel once long ago and found it boring.

This time I liked it much better though I could not find much of the Jonathan Swift influence other critics have mentioned other than a certain parallel between Cavor and the Grand Lunar and Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms. The Grand Lunar criticizes man and finds him barbarous after talking to Cavor just at the Houyhnhnms do after talking to Gulliver.

I suspect, with Cavor, Wells produced another influential depiction of the scientist for sf and popular culture: here the portrayal is of the naïve, unworldly, eccentric scientist purely interested in knowledge.

I found it interesting that Wells appears to be one of the first to develop a relatively complicated ecology for life on the Moon and a relatively rigorous working out of its environment given his initial premises and the science of the time.

Structurally, the novel is interesting in that most of the explication (and, indeed, political points and thematic workings) take place after Bedford has successfully escaped from the moon. Essentially, Wells drops the adventure format to settle the mystery of the Selenites in bald explication and half settle Cavor’s fate.

Certain, satirical points are made in Cavor’s account of his time on the moon and their discrepancies with narrator Bedford’s account.

Of course, Bedford is not exactly a most reliable narrator. He is somewhat rash and dishonest (in trying to dupe his creditors and evade blame for a boy being hurt in an accident with the Cavorite sphere when it returns to Earth), and he does provoke a fight with the Selenites.

The First Men in the Moon can be read as a typically ambivalent Wells’ novel. Here the ambivalence is about a planned World State. It lacks the wars of Earth. But it also lacks individual freedom (ant societies are explicitly alluded to) with surgical techniques used to mold the minds and bodies of the Selenites to specific occupations.

The novel not only foreshadows Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World with its genetically based castes and in vitro engineering but also (Huxley was a fan of Wells so he certainly read this novel) all those sf societies where engineered organisms replace mechanical devices. One Selenite is even engineered to power small devices. Cavor is put off by this though he hopes to eventually feel more favorably about it.

The whole biological caste system seems mediaeval. Wells, I don’t think, means us to view this favorably. I suspect he loved man’s adaptability and flexibility too much. However, he seems, like Swift, if one accepts the theory that his Houyhnhnms were not to be laudable but a manifestation of cold reason untempered by love, to be criticizing Selenite as well as man.

Cavor sees one Selenite as a symbol of “lost possibilities”. Another time, each Selenite is “a perfect unit in a world machine”. The Selenite procedure of simply drugging a worker into sleep when he is not needed is unsettling – but no worse, Cavor tells us, than laying off a worker. Cavor also speculates that humans are just as specialized as Selenites but in the hidden aspects of their brains. Cavor also says Selenite occupation training is more humane than the earthly method of letting children grow up and then “making machines.” (No doubt Wells resented his being forced to be a clerk at an early age.)

However, there is little doubt that the Grand Lunar speaks for Wells in criticizing man’s lack of a global authority.


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