Why is "The First Men in the Moon" Considered an important book?

It’s still in print. “Alien Voices” has dramatized it on audio. It’s been done as a movie with Ray Harryhausen special effects. It’s been done as a comic by Classics Illustrated.

Why? I’ve read it a couple of times, and I’m underwhelmed. Wells’ vision of a moon with atmosphere and plants that live a single day is shockingly at odds with the known facts of the Moon. His “Moon calf” is a cute joke that I think hardly anyone got. His Selenites allow him to indulge in a bit of extreme social observation, as The Time Machine did. “Follow present trends to their logical conclusion,” he seems to be saying, “and this grotesquerie is the logical result.” But it’s clumily done as a long description sent from the Moon by Cavor.

When I first read this, as a kid, I thought it was because it was original, that no one had sent people to the moon with anti-gravity spheres, or used imagined lunar societies to poke fun at Terestrial creatures. But now I know that none of this is original at all – Almost half a dozen books about people flyin to Mars and elsewhere using anti-gravity spheres appeared in the decade before Wells wrote his novel. They generally got their ballistic science and planetary science straighter than wells did, and they managed to work their descriptions of the societies into the text better than wells did. In other words, wells wasn’t exactly original.

About the only original thing (aside from his moon with an atmosphere at so late a date) was his use of very non-human Selenites. Everyone else made their aliens either completely human, or mostly so. I would have thought the idea of non-human aliens was obvious, but apparently this is not the case. Wells, first with his octopoid Martians in war of the Worlds and then his ant-like Selenites in First Men in the Moon, seems to be the father of non-human extraterrestrials.

But why is the Wells book consider more classic than Cromie’s A Plunge into Space? And why is Kurd Lasswitz virtually unknown in the English-speaking world although a hero in Germany), and his Auf Zwei Planete has only been translated once (very abridged, too) into English?

First, I’d dispute that anyone would call it a classic. It stays in print, sure, but it is second rate Wells, above Food of the Gods but well below Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and Island of Dr. Moreau. The movie was relatively low budget, especially when compared to both War of the Worlds movies and the first Time Machine movie.

Oddly enough, Wells claimed that his way of getting to the moon was more scientific than Verne’s. True in a sense since the cannon would have squashed Verne’s astronauts flat, but if you replace it with a rocket, Verne wins hands down - which is why From the Earth to the Moon is a true classic. Perhaps those who want social meaning in their sf like it better, but form me upsydaisium - hm, cavorite, is a deal killer.

Even odder, Verne roundly condemned Wells for using his “cavorite” instead of a real scientific means. Yet my edition of Cromie’s book (published over half a decade before Wells’ TFMITM) , about men going to Mars in a spherical sheel of anti-gravity material, has a foreward by Verne, praising it for its imaghination!

Verne didn’t read English, ansd Cromie’s book was not translated into French. This, and the fact that Verne seems to have condemned Wells for the same imagination, leads some folks to suspect that Verne didn’t really read the book, or write the foreward, and maybe his son did it.
But Wels’ book is undoubtedly considered a classic, in that it’s still adapted and still in print, while you have to stalk the used book sources for Cromie or Lasswitz or the others who wrote of anti-gravity space travelers in the 1890s.
And Harryhausen’s first Men in the Moon wasn’t low-budget. It was a studio release from a major studio that had plenty of TV advertising. I was there at the time, and I remember it.

Mostly because Wells has the reputation as the father of science fiction (along with Verne). The fact that there were others who also developed the genre is irrelevant – Wells made it into a recognizable genre, so his SF books get special notice beyond their literary qualities.

Being first is nice, but popularizing a concept is more important. Wells wasn’t the first, but he popularized the idea with the general public. And a book can be a classic even if it isn’t original.

Verne and Wells did represent two different types of SF, with Verne’s hard science bent more in line with current SF than Wells’s social criticism mode.

Because US readers are generally uninterested in non-English-language SF, even in translation. Even today, Andreas Eschbach – author of the best SF novel in any language in the past ten years – is unknown in the US despite a first class translation of his first novel, The Carpet Makers. Though from what I’ve seen, non-English-language SF is much like when literary writers try to write SF – it’s too much reinventing the wheel, and tends to come off as unsophisticated and clumsy.

At least two of the other writers on the general topic wrote in English. Lasswitz wrote in German, but his work was immensely popular there, and was soon translated into a dozen languages. But not English? Why not? It can’t be just an abreaction againast non-English writers – Jules Verne continued to be translated and to be popular in English up to his death in 19056 and well after that.
i suspect that it was just the Wells name that carried his book through on this. But it’s not merelt substandard Wells, it’s substandard science fiction, and its faults can’t be laid at the door of its being “early”.

I agree that this is the reason it’s still in print. But I don’t think Wells cared about writing good science fiction, not as it was understood at the time. Notice how he retreated into writing mundane novels, which made him quite popular among the elite, and which I think sold well, though they’re probably not in print anymore. The science in Wells always quickly falls apart. There isn’t any in The Time Machine, would the Martians really not think about germs (the solution is not that much better than that of Independence Day) He started out subtle in providing his social message, then got really blatant by the time of When the Sleeper Wakes.

I think Wells would have made an excellent New Wavicle if he had been born 70 years later.

Why can’t it? Just because Verne was popular doesn’t mean other non-English writers were going to be embraced. It may just be a case of being in the right place at the right time for Verne and being late for Lasswitz.

But no longer. At the 100th anniversary of his death, one SF commentator considered it a scandal that none of his works were in print in the US.

Well, that’s a big part of it, but ultimately, as I said, a book can be a classic and remain in print without being all that good.

Looking at the dates, the Lasswitz vs. Verne issue is clear. Lasswitz first novel came out in 1871. By that time, Verne was a sensation with Five Weeks in a Balloon, Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea all published and popular. Lasswitz likely came off as a Verne imitator, and why go for the imitation when Verne was still pumping out best sellers?

Where are you living? Several Verne novels are in print, some for the first time. Prometheus books just published one of his stage plays. A translation claiming to be the first complete and accurate version of Mysterious Island came out just a couple of years ago. I myself just bought Kereban the Inflexible a couple of months back, and know that quite a few others are available from the same U.S. publisher.

My point on Lasswitz was that you said that people didn’t want to read foreign writers. Yet they clearly embraced Verne, so that’s not true. Now you seem to claim that any foreign writer not Verne was seen as an imitator. But I don’t see any evidence for or against that. Lasswitz’ book can’t be dismissed on the grounds of merit – it was immensely popular, and continued to be so long after its publication. I doon’;t think it’s ever been out of print in Germany. And its subject matter doesn’t overlap Verne’s – he never wrote about trips to Mars or about alien beings.

By the way, when Lasswitz published his book, Five Weeks in a Balloon was over twenty years old, and some of the others you list were getting pretty much up there, too. They couldn’t be seen as serious competition for Lasswitz – you’d think the public would be interested in new things. Verne was still putting them out, but your argument is like saying that people won’t buy a new horror writer because Stephen King is stuill writing, and people already have Carrie and Salem’s Lot.

I find the insistence on hard science pedantic. In my view, the best science fiction has always placed storyline and character development over science.

Wells wrote adventure stories that captured the imagination and carried the reader away (while usually including a social message). They were well-written and entertaining. If their science was not rigorous, so what?

I agree to a point. If the science is ludicrously off the mark, though, it ain’t SF, it’s fantasy.

And the characters, plotting, etc. aren’t up to Wells’ standards – his explication of Lunar society is all stuffed into the end, with the communiques from Cavor. In Lasswitz, by contrast, there’s action and explanation throughout.

Lasswitz could’ve used an editor, too – there are dull spots. But his stuff certainly holds up favorably relative to Wells, on all counts. My argument isn’t that Wells is bad because he’s unscientific, and the other guy giot his figures straight. It’;s that wells wrote a bopok that’s substandard on all counts, and isn’t even original, to boot. Yet other works with claims to importance have been virtuially ignored.

The hard truth is that there is simply no interest in mainstream culture for more than one big name writing what is now called science fiction at any given time. (OK, occasionally you get two, but usually one is lesser.)

Verne was mostly played out as a writer by the time Wells came on the scene. Wells was followed by Burroughs after Wells had turned mainly to nonfiction.

You can make a game of who follows who for the rest of the century, but the reality is that the vagaries of popular culture allow one name to represent that kind of writing. It doesn’t matter if others are doing it just as well or far better, for that matter. The market is saturated at one. Only cultists like us dive any deeper into the pool.

Nobody can or will ever be able to explain why the public fixates on that one, either.