The First Men in the Moon

As I sit down to write here amidst the shadows of vine–leaves under the blue sky of southern Italy, it comes to me with a certain quality of astonishment that my participation in these amazing adventures of Mr. Cavor was, after all, the outcome of the purest accident. It might have been any one. I fell into these things at a time when I thought myself removed from the slightest possibility of disturbing experiences. I had gone to Lympne because I had imagined it the most uneventful place in the world. “Here, at any rate,” said I, “I shall find peace and a chance to work!”
And this book is the sequel. So utterly at variance is destiny with all the little plans of men. I may perhaps mention here that very recently I had come an ugly cropper in certain business enterprises. Sitting now surrounded by all the circumstances of wealth, there is a luxury in admitting my extremity. I can admit, even, that to a certain extent my disasters were conceivably of my own making. It may be there are directions in which I have some capacity, but the conduct of business operations is not among these. But in those days I was young, and my youth among other objectionable forms took that of a pride in my capacity for affairs. I am young still in years, but the things that have happened to me have rubbed something of the youth from my mind. Whether they have brought any wisdom to light below it is a more doubtful matter.

– H.G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon

The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells was first published in 1901.

Cavorite owes something to the ‘apergy‘ of Percy Greg‘s Across the Zodiac (1880) and John Jacob Astor IV‘s A Journey in Other Worlds (1894)

Wells characterises Bedford’s motives explicitly as imperialistic:

An extraordinary possibility came rushing into my mind. Suddenly I saw, as in a vision, the whole solar system threaded with Cavorite liners and spheres deluxe. “Rights of pre-emption,” came floating into my head – planetary rights of pre-emption. I recalled the old Spanish monopoly in American gold. It wasn’t as though it was just this planet or that – it was all of them. I stared at Cavor’s rubicund face, and suddenly my imagination was leaping and dancing. I stood up, I walked up and down; my tongue was unloosened.
”I’m beginning to take it in,” I said; “I’m beginning to take it in.” The transition from doubt to enthusiasm seemed to take scarcely any time at all. “But this is tremendous!” I cried. “This is Imperial! I haven’t been dreaming of this sort of thing.”

– H.G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon (p.30)

As Bedford journeys home alone he becomes alienated from himself – which, perhaps, explains those curious third-person chapter headings:

I can’t profess to explain the things that happened in my mind. No doubt they could all be traced directly or indirectly to the curious physical conditions under which I was living. I set them down here just for what they are worth, and without any comment. The most prominent quality of it was a pervading doubt of my own identity. I became, if I may so express it, dissociate from Bedford; I looked down on Bedford as a trivial, incidental thing with which I chanced to be connected. I saw Bedford in many relations – as an ass or as a poor beast, where I had hitherto been inclined to regard him with a quiet pride as a very spirited or rather forcible person. I saw him not only as an ass, but as the son of many generations of asses. I reviewed his school-days and his early manhood, and his first encounter with love, very much as one might review the proceedings of an ant in the sand. Something of that period of lucidity I regret still hangs about me, and I doubt if I shall ever recover the full-bodied self satisfaction of my early days. But at the time the thing was not in the least painful, because I had that extraordinary persuasion that, as a matter of fact, I was no more Bedford than I was any one else, but only a mind floating in the still serenity of space. Who should I be disturbed about this Bedford’s shortcomings? I was not responsible for him or them.

– H.G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon (p.145-146)

  • Astor, John Jacob (1894) A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future
  • Burden, Brian J. (1984) ”Decoding The Time Machine” in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction #31, 1984
    • (1985) ”Decoding The Time Machine, 2: Across the Zodiac” in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction #35, Winter 1985/86
  • Greg, Percy (1880) Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record
  • Wells, H.G. (1901) The First Men in the Moon
  • Parrinder, Patrick (1974) News from Nowhere, The Time Machine and the Break-Up of Classical Realism” in Science Fiction Studies #10, Volume3, Part 3, November 1976
  • Parrinder, Patrick (1993) ”H.G. Wells and the Fall of Empires” in Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction #57, Spring 1993
  • Wells, H. G. (1895) The Time Machine
  1. Hansen says:

    I wonder if Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Vril (1871) could have influenced Percy Greg. Just as Greg came up with apergy, Lytton writes about the power of vril, a force and energy that is all around us and inside us (almost like the Force in Star Wars), and can be used for everything, including flying.

    From a book about science fiction: “Robert Cromie – who felt that Wells had stolen the thunder of his interplanetary romance A Plunge into Space (1890), which had employed an antigravity device similar to Chrysostom Trueman’s – offered his own take on the implications of Darwin’s theory of evolution in The Crack of Doom (1895).”

    In Cromie’s novel, they are building a globular spaceship called the “Steel Globe” in secret.

    (Chrysostom Trueman, the pseudonym of an unidentified UK author, wrote The History of a Voyage to the Moon (1864), where the protagonists spend the first part of the book to come up with an antigravity device able to take them to the moon in a spaceship they have built, and where they meet an utopia.)

    But from another article:

    “Soon after the appearance of The First Men in the Moon , Wells was involved in a controversy with a now-forgotten Irish writer, Robert Cromie, author of A Plunge into Space (1890). This tale also employed “the secret of gravitation” to power a spherical spaceship on a journey to Mars, so the two novels certainly had some points in common. Wells’s reply to the indignant Irishman’s accusations was the single sentence: “I have never heard of Mr Cromie nor of the book he attempts to advertise by insinuations of plagiarism on my part.”

    Although there is no reason to doubt Wells’s statement, both he and Cromie were heirs to the 19th-century tradition of anti-gravity stories, notably Percy Greg’s Across the Zodiac (1880). Anti-gravity “screens” of the type so plausibly described by Wells have been out of fashion for more than a century because a simple thought experiment will show that they cannot possibly work.”

    It also makes you think if E.E. Doc Smith found some inspiration in one or more of these stories, at least in Wells’ novel. In Skylark of Space, the first part of the book is spent to build a globular spaceship containing an internal platform and gyroscopes, after the discovery of and taming a new power source able to turn pure copper combined with element X into pure energy which among other things can be used to travel to the stars, where they meet alien creatures and societies. Of course, Smith took it to a whole new level.

    It would be cool if all of these borrowed ideas from their predecessors.

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