Synopses & Reviews
“Why do people read science fiction? In hopes of receiving such writing as this—a ravishingly accurate vision of things unseen; an utterly unexpected yet necessary beauty.” So says Ursula K. Le Guin in her Introduction to The First Men in the Moon
, H. G. Wellss 1901 tale of space travel. Heavily criticized upon publication for its fantastic ideas, it is now justly considered a science fiction classic.
Cavor, a brilliant scientist who accidentally produces a gravity-defying substance, builds a spaceship and, along with the materialistic Bedford, travels to the moon. The coldly intellectual Cavor seeks knowledge, while Bedford seeks fortune. Instead of insight and gold they encounter the Selenites, a horrifying race of biologically engineered creatures who viciously, and successfully, defend their home.
An accident in a lab produces a strange substance that seems to defy gravity. Seizing upon this, a businessman and an eccentric genius immediately build a rocket and become the first interstellar travelers, but only one of the men returns to tell the tale.
About the Author
Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the greatest living writers of science fiction. Author of the bestselling Earthsea series, she lives in Oregon.
Reading Group Guide
1. In the essay “Wells as the Turning Point of the SF Tradition” Darko Suvin asks if Wells dislikes Imperialism in general or simply dislikes being on the receiving end of it. What do you think?
2. Wellss description of the moon is startlingly accurate; a barren planet with a thin atmosphere, sub-freezing nights, and very little gravity. Do you think this was strictly his imagination or was he working with specific scientific theories?
3. Jules Verne, a contemporary of Wells, criticized The First Men in the Moon for the “mythical” creation of Cavorite, saying that the space gun he had written of in his From the Earth to the Moon was based on true scientific principles. What scientific theory could Verne be speaking of? Is any part of The First Men in the Moon based on scientific theory available in Wellss day?
4. Many of Wellss contemporaries considered him a fanciful childrens writer wasting time on space travel, aliens, monsters, and the like. It wasnt until George Orwells time that Wells was recognized as one of the writers that launched the science-fiction genre. Why the change in opinion?
5. In her introduction Ursula K. Le Guin states “Wells was the first writer of real note to write as a scientist, from within science, rather than as an outsider looking on with excitement or complacency or horror at the revelations and implications of the scientific revolution of the nineteenth century.” Do you agree with her assessment?
6. In Wellss previous novels his themes and outcomes are rather obvious — The Time Machine was a play on the hierarchy of social class, The Island of Dr. Moreau was a comment on the possible pitfalls of bio-engineering. What is the theme of this book? Is it ambiguous? If yes, did Wells intend for the theme to be ambiguous?
7. Cavor and Bedford are more caricatures than characters; Bedford is selfish, vain, and brute while Cavor is the typical mindless professor. Why did Wells choose to one-dimensional characters to drive his story? Was it easier or harder to feel sympathy for these static characters?
8. Wells once wrote that his method was to trick his “reader into an unwary concession to some plausible assumption.” Did Wells “trick” his contemporary audience? Does he trick readers today? If not, why do people still read his novels?