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Friday, March 20th, 2009

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Very Belated Book Review: THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON

I finally got around to reading this HG Wells’ classic THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. It is a short book and in the public domain, so it is easy to get a hold of, and easy to read.

We have entered the Second Age of Science Fiction. In the First Age, all science fiction was fiction, and the future was a blank page. In the Second Age, the page is overwritten with real events, none of which were correctly expected. Science Fiction of the Second Age carries with it a long history of discarded prophecies, what are called “retrofutures”, were we can look back and see what were our grandfathers’ meditations (literal or figurative) about their future. These are not exactly alternate history, nor do they fit the old definition of science fiction as fiction set in a possible future. The mood most likely provoked by old science fiction is one of nostalgia, melancholy facing the past, which, ironically, is the precise opposite of the mood they were meant to provoke, wonder facing the future. Reading Orwell’s NINETEEN-EIGHTY FOUR is simply a different experience for an audience circa 1948, when the Labour Party was in the ascendant in England, as opposed to 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell.

THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON was published in 1901, six decades before the real moon landing, and I read it in 2009, four decades after the last moon landing. The tale was not scientifically feasible even when written, nor, to be fair, was it meant to be: it was a figurative rather than literal mediation on the future.

The plot consists of failed businessman Bedford, who is staying in the country, hiding from creditors, trying to write a play. He meets absentminded scientist Cavor, who is developing a metal, Cavorite, an alloy of helium, that blocks all gravity waves, nullifying the attraction of Earth. The two contrive a glass sphere fitted with venetian blinds of the material, which allows them to cut off Earthly gravity while allowing Lunar gravity to attract them.

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