MOONRISE: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures edited by Mike Ashley. Book review

MOONRISE: The Golden Age of Lunar Adventures edited by Mike Ashley, British Library, UK p/b £8.99 (UK) 348 pages

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Humans are curious people so it is not surprising that throughout history stories have been invented the moon, something observable but not understood. In Mike Ashley’s introduction to this volume, he gives a fascinating run down of lunar fiction from 150 AD when the Greek Lucian of Samosata tells a story of visiting the moon. Perhaps this can regarded as the origin of SF since he was using the knowledge of the time. Since then approaches have changed as more accurate information has been uncovered. 

The stories included in this volume give a picture of how ideas, and writing styles have changed from the earliest story first published in 1894 to the most recent in 1963, all before the actual first moon landing. They are not presented in chronological order but all tell of pioneering expeditions to the moon and use the received wisdom currently extant at the time the author was writing. Naturally, we now know that some ideas were wrong. That doesn’t necessarily negate the value of the story.

While most of the stories agree that there is no air between Earth and the Moon and almost none on the surface itself, many stories speculate about life there, either underground or in chasms where the remnants of an atmosphere (and water) might possibly be found. Most readers will be aware of H.G.Wells’ novel The First Men in the Moon. Here the last part is reproduced describing the lives and alien society of the insect-like Selenites. Published in the same year (1901), George Griffith in ‘A Visit To The Moon’ (again part of something longer has his adventures finding the degenerate remnants of a race surviving in the deep canyons.

William F. Temple was a member of the British Interplanetary Society so it make sense for the organisation to mount its own expedition. ‘Lunar Lilliput’ (1938) finds the expedition encountering the last member of a race that lived there before the Moon started losing its atmosphere, and the miniature people he has created. The earliest story, ‘Sunrise on the Moon’ (1894) by John Munro, is largely a descriptive and philosophical piece but other than the speculation that lower forms of life might have existed there, is an accurate rendition. 

While we now believe that life, even of the lowest kind has never developed on the Moon it hasn’t stopped authors speculating that it might have been visited by aliens. In Paul

 Ernst’s story ‘Nothing Happens of the Moon’ (1939) Clow Hartigan is the sole crew member manning an emergency station on the Moon. When the meteorite that lands nearby hatches into an alien intent on killing him, he has a problem to solve if he is to survive. This is a fine story showing the resilience and ingenuity of Hartigan and has not dated. Similarly, the very well-known Arthur C. Clarke story ‘The Sentinel’ (1951) indicates that the Moon has been visited by aliens.

The Moon is treated as a place of last refuge for human-kind. Edmund Hamilton in ‘After a Judgement Day’ (1963) had the population of Earth wiped out by a plague while John Wyndham’s ‘Idiot’s Delight’ (1958) saw only the British Moon Station surviving after nuclear war on Earth.

It is widely acknowledged that going to the Moon is dangerous and the hope of rescue if things go wrong is slim. The causes of potential disaster are many. In Charles Cloukey’s 1928 story ‘Sub-Satellite’ the problem was a stowaway with murder on his mind, while the crew of Gorgon R. Dickson’s 1961 ‘Whatever Gods There Be’ have to solve the problem of returning to earth after the surface they landed of collapsed dumping the spacecraft into a pit.

The first story in the volume, Judith Merril’s ‘Dead Centre’ (1954) predicts the way space flight may well be going, a combination of government sponsored and private funding. It is also the best story here as it deals not only with the hardware and scientific aspects of the expedition but with human ones as well; the characters are very real. It has everything a reader could want – excitement and adventure, love and tragedy, courage and fear. The book is worth buying for this story alone.

The volume is a good appraisal in fiction of the way writing styles have changed and how authors have adapted to the changing knowledge of our nearest neighbour.