Book Review: The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

The First Men in the MoonThe First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read for the Science Fiction Masterworks Book Club and the SF Masterworks Reading List.

This classic science fiction novel by H.G. Wells has not seemed to have aged well. Of course we have been to the moon, and found no evidence of life of any kind. But there’s a lot in it well worth examining anyway, even for a modern audience.

For one thing, Wells cleverly examines the full implications of an alien mind, “creatures who are as smart as a man, but who don’t think like a man.” The two primary characters – an impoverished businessman named Bedford and an utterly impractical genius named Cavor – take advantage of Cavor’s discovery of a substance that repels gravity to journey to the moon, where they encounter an entire race of ant-like sentient creatures, mostly to their peril.

It’s hard to know whether or not Wells was writing seriously about these characters, or whether he has penned a classic work of masterful satire. These two gentlemen are textbook examples of everything that was wrong with Victorian high society, from their utter disdain and disrespect of the intelligence and capabilities of the lower classes, to their racism and misogyny, to their complete stupidity in the way they approached and reacted to the voyage. Bedford is an Edison-like figure who sees himself as superior to others, and thus entitled to the better things in life, and he thinks of everything in terms of how it might profit him. Cavor is completely given to intellectual pursuits, coloured beyond redemption with his assumptions, and has no common sense. This is a good example of what science fiction, at its best, is supposed to do, which is to make you question the way that societies, as they currently exist, do things, and to imagine better ways.

Despite the Victorian writing style, this, like all Wells’ works, is well worth the time. Highly recommended.

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