I read this book for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015.
The First Men in the Moon – H.G. Wells
The narrator Bedford is an anti-hero. Because of business reverses that lead to bankruptcy, he over-confidently takes to writing plays as a way to get out from under his creditors. Needless to say, he finds writing tedious and more difficult than he expected. In his boredom and frustration while living on the windy Downs, he finds himself easily distracted by his neighbor Cavor’s daily walks.
Bedford can’t stand Cavor’s habit of buzzing as Cavor thinks and walks, hardly a mannerism that is so irritating, but it shows what a jerk Bedford is. Bedford and Cavor talk. It comes out that Cavor has invented a metal that conquers gravity called Cavorite. Cavor is focused on the science and technology of his invention, not its uses. Bedford, however, is struck by the obvious applications of Cavorite: “My first natural impulse was to apply this principle to guns and ironclads, and all the material and methods of war, and from that to shipping, locomotion, building, every conceivable form of human industry.”
Bedford the main chancer and Cavor the educated fool voyage to the Moon. Wells’ description of flight in the sphere made me gasp, it was that vibrant. Once they arrive on the Moon, they have adventures that are totally consistent with their characters. Cavor wants to study the environment and the inhabitants, the Selenites. But rash Bedford ends up slaughtering a passle of the delicate insect-like creatures. Our mismatched pair end up separating. Bedford, claiming that he assumed Cavor was killed, deserts and returns Earthside with some gold he has appropriated.
After a year, the newly rich Bedford finds out that Cavor has set up a wireless communication and tells of his adventures the “ruthlessly rational” dystopia the leaders of the Selenites have established. In his messages, Cavor lets slip to the Selenites the war-like nature of Earthers, which gives Wells a chance to beat the anti-war drum. Alarmed, the Selenites silence him, probably permanently since the messages stop.
Overall this novel has everything I like to see in a science fiction novel: new technology, off world exploration, and contact with aliens and their weird culture. But its social commentary reminded me of the Iain Banks in Use of Weapons, the only one of Banks I’ve had the stones to read. For both writers, people – when they are not burnt-out or in the slough of despair -- are greedy, cowardly, and disloyal and inter-cultural contact will always call to mind Spaniards versus Incas.