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Blogosophical Investigations
 
Monday, March 28, 2005  

This morning Andrew Marr's Start The Week talked about Wells's The First Men In The Moon. One of the guests was China MiƩville, who's written the introduction to a new Penguin edition. I learned that Wells had been challenged by Verne over the poor quality of his science. I should think Wells would be well placed to offer the defence that artistic value is more important than scientific plausibility, since he was a supreme artist. Even so, he sailed close to the wind with the liberties he took.

I don't have much problem with Cavorite, the anitgravity material. That's well justified by the scene where the first sample is produced in a chemical reaction while Cavor is walking to the house of Bedford, the narrator. Cavor's house and quantities of the East Anglian surroundings take off into space - in an "absentmindedness that had just escaped depopulating the terrestrial globe":

The chimneys jerked heavenward, smashing into a string of bricks as they rose, and the roof and a miscellany of furniture followed. Then overtaking them came a huge white flame. The trees about the building swayed and whirled and tore themselves to pieces, that sprang towards the flare. My ears
were smitten with a clap of thunder that left me deaf on one side for life, and all about me windows smashed, unheeded. I took three steps from the verandah towards Cavor's house, and even as I did so came the wind. Instantly my coat tails were over my head, and I was progressing in great leaps and bounds, and quite against my will, towards him.
But sending his travellers to the Moon without breathing apparatus, only to find a breathable atmosphere available when they arrive - that's outrageous.

And when Bedford and Cavor emerge onto the surface of the Moon they find that the lunar day is ending, presumably becasue Wells wants them to feel the pressure of time - they can't survive in the lunar night. But they arrived at dawn, and they've only spent two days below the surface in the company of the selenites. The lunar day is 14 terrestrial days long. No problem - just invoke some mysterious physiological effect that has slowed their subjective experience of time. Doubly outrageous. But again justified by what the old wordsmith does with it all.

Credit to the Gutenberg project, whose text I checked, and found to be wildly, disconcertingly, different in many ways from what I had remembered.

3:30 PM

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