Book Review – The First Men in the Moon (Audio)

  • Title: The First Men in the Moon
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Authors: HG Wells (original novel); Jonathan Barnes (adapted screenplay)
  • Director: Lisa Bowerman
  • Cast: Nigel Planer (Professor Cavor), Gethin Anthony (Bedford), Chloe Pirrie (Maria Bell), Alan Cox (Shapps/Bartoli/Selinites), David Horovitch (The Grand Lunar)

This is the third adaptation of HG Wells’ classic novels by Big Finish that I have listened to. It’s an excellent adaption, but I’m beginning to find Wells extremely depressing. This novel begins with Bedford in Italy where he runs into a woman who introduces herself as the younger sister of a friend. They get along well – having coffee and then dinner together. But she also seems to be pumping him for information.

Bedford tells Maria that he was an accomplished and successful businessman but one of his investments had failed, so he had gone to a small village to relax, escape his creditors, and “write a play in ten days” to recoup his losses. In this small village, he meets a professor, with whom he strikes up an unusual friendship. The professor, Cavor, is obsessed with the question of overcoming gravity. But not with thrust, but rather by “repelling” gravity. Just as oil repels water, or two magnets repel each other, Cavor hopes to discover or create a substance that repels gravity.

Bedford sees immediately that a great deal of money could be made from such a substance, so he supports Cavor – both encouraging him, and helping him financially. Cavor is able to manufacture such a substance and he builds a sphere out of the stuff and announces his plan to go to the moon on a mission of exploration. Bedford, at first, intends to go with him – but suffers an anxiety attack in the sphere. He leaves but runs into one of his creditors in the local pub. Bedford sets the locals on his creditor and runs back to the sphere where he and Cavor set off.

The sphere rises into the air, and soon they land on the moon – and simply walk onto the surface of the moon, without spacesuits or even diving suits. At first, Bedford complains about the lifeless and boring surface of the moon, but as the sun rises above the surface – plant life erupts quickly, enveloping the surface. Cavor and Bedford run off. They also see what’s described as “moon cows”, which Cavor stares at in amazement. Bedford first considers them as a point for making money – by rigging big game hunting of the animals or even killing them for meat to sell on Earth.

They are then set upon by the moon natives. The insect-like natives, whom Cavor calls “Selinites”, after the goddess of the moon, take Cavor and Bedford underground. The insects communicate in a chittering voice which the two Englishmen cannot understand. Slowly Bedford becomes more and more panicked. He calls the Selinites, “monsters”, and when they are led through what appears to be a slaughterhouse for the moon cows, he grabs a stalagmite and starts swinging. Much to his surprise, the merest hit on a Selinites cause them to explode. Bedford kills the lot and he and Cavor escape. Once back on the lunar surface, Cavor says he should look at the stalagmite in his hand. Bedford does and discovers it’s gold. He and Cavor decide to split up and find the sphere. Bedford finds it, returns to the spot where he left Cavor, and finds evidence of foul play but no body. Bedford returns to the sphere and to Earth, where he uses the gold to pay off his debts and pay for his Italian vacation.

Meanwhile, he and Maria are getting along famously, and she encourages everything he says. This constant agreement, however, makes Bedford suspicious, so he questions Maria. He finds out she’s a British spy, sent to find him and get information about the professor. She takes him to Bedlam to meet a man who, due to an accident that saw him fitted with an iron plate in his head, is picking up messages from the moon. It’s Cavor – warning of an invasion.

Although there is a definite adventure story in, The First Men in the Moon, the story really feels like a debate. And it’s a debate between Business (Bedford) and Science (Cavor). Professor Cavor, is kind, optimistic, sees the best in people (and other beings), and wishes to use his intellect to help others and for the betterment of all humankind. Bedford is greedy, harsh, selfish, and mean. He wants to make money and doesn’t care who or what he has to exploit to do it. Upon landing on the moon, his first reaction is that it’s ugly, desolate, and boring. Cavor nails it when he points out, “You mean there’s nothing you can sell.” Bedford is also deeply suspicious (when Cavor, who is very much alive, not dead like Bedford thought, works out a method of communication with the Selinites, and ends up talking to their leader, the Grand Lunar, Bedford insists to Maria that Cavor, “doesn’t realise he’s being interrogated”.) Bedford also is claustrophobic – he panics in the sphere and no doubt being far below the surface of the moon adds to his reaction against the Selinites as much his own prejudice against a species he finds ugly.

Bedford and Maria are very suspicious, they worry the Selinites will attack. Unfortunately, Cavor had emphasized British military advances and conquests, especially of indigenous species in his discussions with the Grand Lunar. This does not go well and appears to lead to the invasion that Bedford warns of and Maria is preparing for.

However, if you look at it from the Selinite point of view – Bedford and Cavor appear from nowhere, doing considerable damage to their crops. Taken captive, the native “agricultural caste” cannot understand these strange, dangerous creatures. The farmers were probably bringing them to some sort of authority, though we never find out for sure – because Bedford goes on a killing spree. Once Cavor works out a communication method, and Selinites learn English, the leader interviews Cavor and finds to his horror he’s dealing with an extremely war-like species who exploit or even kill every other native group they come across. The first strike seems almost justified. – Just from a devil’s advocate point of view.

So, the story, itself is a bit depressing – Bedford, as the lead character, has his own point of view, which is presented as the “right way” even though it is flawed. For example, Cavor brings the Complete Works of William Shakespeare along on the trip for reading material. Bedford dismisses it as “worthless junk” with nothing to apply to modern times. Bedford, likewise, also thought he could whip-up a play in ten days and make tons of money – ignoring how much work writing is, or how unlikely it is that a first play would be a bestseller (so to speak). Cavor may be a bit naive at times, but he isn’t entirely at fault for the conflict, considering it was Bedford who attacked and killed a bunch of Selinites, to begin with. We also only see Cavor through Bedford’s eyes, and to a certain extent, Maria’s, as she reads off the messages they are receiving from the man with a plate in his head.

Also, as Victorian/Edwardian SF – The First Men in the Moon, has a few issues just from the modern viewpoint and knowledge of the moon. The one that threw me the most was Cavor and Bedford stepping out of the sphere – without spacesuits, or even diving suits or a diving bell. It reminded me of the bit in Galaxy Quest, “Is there air out there? Do you know?” We know there isn’t air on the moon, and the pressure is very great. If they’d only used a Victorian diving suit I would have been OK with it, but being completely unprotected, on the moon, threw me out of the story for a few minutes. The rest of the fantasy elements: the quickly blooming plants, the moon cows, the underground city, and the Selinites should have been just as impossibly fantastic, but the presentation was so good I found I could enjoy it anyway. Basically, if it had been a different planet with an atmosphere I would have found the whole story acceptable. I don’t need a lot of science in my SF or Science Fantasy after all – but people breathing somewhere without atmosphere is tough to swallow.

Still, it’s a good story, overall, which I can recommend. It’s a bit depressing at times, but the cast is brilliant. This is a full-cast audio play with music, special effects, acting, and performances – not a reading of the original novel (as in an audiobook). Recommended.

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Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!