Review of The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

Science Fiction Audio Drama - The First Men in the Moon by H.G. WellsThe First Men in the Moon
By H.G. Wells, performed by a full cast
2 Tapes, Approx. 2 hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Alien Voices
Published: 1998
ISBN: 0671872281
Themes: / Science fiction / Aliens / Sociology / Space Travel /

Oars slap against water and thud against wood, waves lap against a small boat bobbing in the ocean, and shore birds scree along the not-too-distant shore. You close your eyes and are transported to another time and place, a sonic virtual reality in which two fisherman sit to either side of you, discussing the catch and the mysterious steel sphere that falls from the sky. Such richly detailed soundscapes draw you into this adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon, and whisk you along from the familiar sounds of earth to the speculative sounds of deep space and the moon.

The acting is uniformly excellent, as well, with Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie leading a talented cast with their spot-on characterizations of Professor Caver and Mr. Bedford. These two form a buzzing, absent-minded scientist and cool, craven capitalist odd-couple who develop a spaceship built around gravity-blocking shutters and then fly it to the moon. The civilization they discover beneath the moon’s surface is, well, substantially alien. This tale isn’t quite Wells’, but it is told with such ebullience and impressive audio depth that you can’t help liking it. In fact, the genial enthusiasm that suffuses the entire production proves both the greatest strength and the greatest weakness of the work: It makes for fun listening, but it winds up blunting some of Wells’ sharper observations about humanity and reason.

On the plus side, this adaptation does an admirable job of streamlining Wells’ sprawling narrative to lead us effectively from the thrill of invention to the uncertainty of exploration, from budding friendship to estrangement, and from difficult first contact to horrifying understanding. But there are several missteps along the way. For one thing, the voyage to the moon has been clumsily appended with a comet rendezvous that cheerily ignores even Newtonian physics and leads to an incomprehensible predicament with the Caverite shutters. What’s more, a staged “revolution” on the moon is utterly unconvincing, and even more disappointing, the Grand Lunar is transformed from a rational genius to a power-mad egomaniac.

But the most important transformation is thematic. Wells’ original compares human terrestrial civilization with the formic lunar one to contrast life as we know it with his vision of a completely rational society. Both have distinct horrors: We have war and poverty, the Lunarites have de-evolved sub-races and casual deactivation of inconvenient units. In this production, the comparison seems more like one between Capitalism and Communism, and it reverses the threat at the end to be something like a Red Scare, which makes no sense when you consider which society has the more demonstrably violent past.

On the whole, this is a fun production and a treat to listen to. Enjoy it for what it is, but do not attempt to substitute it for a reading of the original.

Posted by Kurt Dietz

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