Monday, 31 March 2014

First Men in the Moon - HG Wells (1901)

Month two of Paul and I trawling through A Hundred Years of Paperbacks finds us in England (then the moon) with HG Wells.

And, oh, this is more like it!  Only a single year further on than Jules Verne's 'Castaways of the Flag', but it feels as though some clever soul invented the sf adventure novel somewhere in those twelve months.  Admittedly it’s a very British science fiction – far more obviously the product of a specific country than Verne’s eurobland attempt, but that’s all to the good as it replaces Verne’s leaden and plodding morality tale with Wells’ big, mad, entertaining mass of bonkers science, terrific dangers and brilliantly innovative anglo-saxons. This is a novel which is intended to make the reader laugh as well as think deep(ish) thoughts, and it’s all the better for it.

Of course it Paul says below, that it’s basically Doctor Who - and even more specifically, it’s Peter Cushing in the cinema as scatter-brained old duffer Dr Who, travelling to the Moon with his new companion, Mr Bedford, a forward echo of a slightly more morally dubious Roy Castle or Bernard Cribbins, if ever there was one. It’s all there – science which makes sense in your head if not in reality, an alien society which does much the same, a not particularly clever denouement…I can easily imagine Aaru picking up the rights to this, and giving Roberta Tovey a call to see if she were free… 

As well as Who, the early chapters reminded me of Wodehouse a little – Bedford locked away in the country, just waiting to churn out a novel which will make his fortune feels like it must have some point have been the fate of Bertie Wooster or one of his Drones’ chums.  And Cavor, checked from walking the way he prefers, is exactly the sort of unworldly, eccentric scientist Wodehouse would, I think, have approved of.

Which reminds me of something – at one point Bedford makes mention of Jules Verne.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could link each of these books to the next in some way, even if the link isn’t always as concrete as an actual reference? (and if we’re doing so, more interesting to link this to Wodehouse via the characterisation than to, say, Kenneth Graham via the metaphysical peculiarities to be found in chapter 20 of ‘First Men’ – like the ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ chapter in  Wind in the Willows, it’s an odd intrusion of melancholy and spirituality, as though there was a quota of such that every author pre-WWI was obliged to fill).

Much better…