Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  


Entry updated 1 April 2024. Tagged: Theme.

Icon made by Freepik from


The lunar voyage has a long literary history, having developed from a standard framework for social Satire to become one of the archetypal projects of speculative fiction. Major works in the former tradition include two second-century tales by Lucian of Samosata, Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone (1638), the first part of Cyrano de Bergerac's L'autre monde (1657), Daniel Defoe's The Consolidator (1705), Samuel Brunt's A Voyage to Cacklogallinia (1727), Murtagh McDermot's A Trip to the Moon (1728) and Joseph Atterley's A Voyage to the Moon (1827). This phase of the history of the lunar voyage is the subject of Marjorie Hope Nicolson's excellent Voyages to the Moon (1948), which has an extensive annotated bibliography. Several pre-1841 lunar voyages can be found in The Man in the Moone (anth 1971) edited by Faith K Pizor and T Allan Comp. The use of the Moon as a stage for the erection of mock societies became less fashionable in the nineteenth century, but echoes of the tradition recurred even in the twentieth, as in Compton Mackenzie's The Lunatic Republic (1959). The first trip to the Moon seemingly motivated solely by the spirit of adventure was in a brief episode in Ralph Morris's Robinsonade The Life and Wonderful Adventures of John Daniel (1751).

The idea that travelling to the Moon might be a notion worth taking seriously first crops up in the 1640 appendix to John Wilkins's The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638; exp vt The Discovery of a New World 1640), where the author suggests that a man might be carried to the Moon by a large bird or that a flying machine capable of the trip might one day become practicable. Another writer to take seriously the modes of Transportation used as conveniences by satirists was David Russen, author of Iter Lunare (1703): he suggested that a man might be propelled to the Moon by the force of a gargantuan spring. The first writer to make any pretence at verisimilitude was Edgar Allan Poe, whose "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" (June 1835 Southern Literary Messenger; rev 1840) is a curious admixture of comic satire and speculative fiction, although Pfaall's Balloon seems hardly more credible than Russen's spring. A superficially more convincing method was the space-gun envisaged by Jules Verne in De la terre à la lune (1865; trans J K Hoyte as From the Earth to the Moon 1869) and its sequel, Autour de la lune (1870; both trans Lewis Mercier and Eleanor King as From the Earth to the Moon ..., and a Trip Around It 1873).

Serious interest in the Moon as a world in its own right, possibly harbouring Alien life of its own, began with Johannes Kepler's Somnium (1634), but this work stands almost alone. Richard Adams Locke published his "Moon Hoax" in the New York Sun in 1835, purporting to describe the inhabitants of the Moon as observed by Sir John Herschel (1792-1871) with the aid of a new telescope, but this vision of lunar life was a gaudy burlesque. By the time the cosmic voyage began to be taken seriously in the nineteenth century the possibility of there being life on the Moon was already past credibility. H G Wells imagined a Selenite society within the Moon in The First Men in the Moon (1901), but the setting here was no more than a convenient literary device, like the antigravitic Cavorite by means of which the trip was accomplished. Other contemporary works – including W S Lach-Szyrma's "Letters from the Planets" (1887-1893), Edgar Fawcett's The Ghost of Guy Thyrle (1895) and George Griffith's A Honeymoon in Space (January-July 1900 Pearson's as "Stories of Other Worlds"; exp 1901) – portray the Moon as a place of ultimate desolation where life is extinct, although the scenes in which interplanetary voyagers find the ruins of long-dead civilizations on the Moon exhibit a curiously nostalgic sense of tragedy. A dead Moon is featured also in André Laurie's Les exiles de la Terre (1887; trans as The Conquest of the Moon 1889), a story made memorable by the magnificent notion that traversing the vacuum of space might be avoided if the Moon could be temporarily attracted into the Earth's atmosphere by giant Magnets. Lunar life reappeared, however – sometimes in extravagant fashion – in the works of Pulp-magazine writers, notably in Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Moon Maid (stories May 1923-September 1925 Argosy All-Story Weekly; cut fixup 1926), Edmond Hamilton's "The Other Side of the Moon" (Fall 1929 Amazing Stories Quarterly), Otis Adelbert Kline's Maza of the Moon (1930) and, most impressively, Jack Williamson's "The Moon Era" (February 1932 Wonder Stories). Lip-service is paid to the deadness of the Moon's visible surface by locating the aliens inside the Moon, as Wells did, or only on its far side, or in the distant past. A nostalgic elegy for lunar life is offered by Lester del Rey's "The Wings of Night" (March 1942 Astounding).

Dead or not, though, the Moon was there – a mere quarter of a million miles away – to be reached and to be claimed. To the early Pulp writers this was an article of faith, so easily taken for granted that the Moon routinely became a mere stepping-stone en route to Mars – as also in Max Valier's Auf kühner Fahrt zum Mars: Eine kosmische Phantasie (1927 chap; trans Francis Currier as "A Daring Trip to Mars", July 1931 Wonder Stories) – or to the Stars. The lunar voyage remained a constant theme of sf of the 1930s and 1940s, but it was more peripheral than the hype surrounding the first actual Moon landing in 1969 suggested. The imminent possibility of Space Flight in a real Near Future had been taken seriously by relatively few writers. Arthur C Clarke's essay, "We Can Rocket to the Moon – Now!" (Summer 1939 Tales of Wonder), ushered in a new era of realism, but it was the advent towards the end of World War Two of the V-2 rocket-bomb that hammered home the message that Rocket-powered Spaceships were just around the corner. The post-World War Two years saw publication of a number of visionary novels which elevated the first trip to the Moon to quasimythical status. Robert A Heinlein, who had earlier written the poignant "Requiem" (January 1940 Astounding) about the burning ambition of a man who longed to go to the Moon even though the trip would kill him, wrote a short novel about the same hero's earlier fight to finance the first Moon-shot and sell the myth of space conquest to the world: "The Man Who Sold the Moon" (in The Man Who Sold the Moon, coll 1950). Heinlein also scripted the George Pal film Destination Moon (1950), drawing material from his first juvenile novel, Rocket Ship Galileo (1947). Heinlein wrote realistic sf stories set on the Moon for non-genre magazines, as did Arthur C Clarke, the chief UK prophet and propagandist of space travel, and author of Prelude to Space (1951) and Earthlight (August 1951 Thrilling Wonder; 1951). Realistic juvenile novels concerning the establishment of Moon bases were written by Lester del Rey and Patrick Moore, and the UK Radio serial Journey into Space (novelized by Charles Chilton as Journey into Space [1954]) further popularized the idea. Pierre Boulle moved the myth decisively into Mainstream fiction in Garden on the Moon (1964; trans 1965), but by then most sf writers had abandoned the theme as too commonplace. William F Temple's Shoot at the Moon (1966) was one of the last major celebrations of the lunar-voyage myth in sf before Neil Armstrong took his "one small step".

In the mythology of sf, the first lunar landing was usually a prelude to rapid Colonization. A lunar colony had waged its carbon-copy war of independence as long ago as The Birth of a New Republic (Winter 1931 Amazing Stories Quarterly; 1981 chap) by Jack Williamson and Miles J Breuer. The hostility of the lunar environment was admitted, but faith in human ingenuity ran high – John W Campbell Jr wrote the ultimate lunar Robinsonade in The Moon Is Hell (1950), easily outdoing Charles Eric Maine's more modest High Vacuum (1956). Thrillers and mysteries set on the inhabited Moon became commonplace in the 1950s; examples are Murray Leinster's City on the Moon (1957), Clarke's A Fall of Moondust (1961) and Clifford D Simak's Trouble with Tycho (1961). Heinlein produced a definitive new version of the birth of the new republic in The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (December 1965-April 1966 If; 1966), a vision which John Varley modified and expanded upon in Steel Beach (1992).

Despite its deadness, the Moon retained its status as an alien world, and human visitors sometimes found echoes of others long passed on – artefacts left behind to confront the Earthlings, as they broke out of their atmospheric shell, with a glimpse of the infinite possibilities of an inhabited Universe. Clarke's "Sentinel of Eternity" (Spring 1951 10 Story Fantasy; vt "The Sentinel" in Expedition to Earth, coll 1953) captured the essence of this notion and became its archetypal expression, ultimately forming the seed of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1967). An equally challenging but far less hospitable artefact is featured in Rogue Moon (1960) by Algis Budrys, and the discovery of an apparently human corpse on the Moon in James P Hogan's Inherit the Stars (1977) is a prelude to far more spectacular discoveries. Further lunar mysteries include the "Ice Pit" of Greg Bear's Heads (July-August 1990 Interzone; 1990).

Post-1969 sf tends to look farther out than the Moon, although lunar colonies are still a frequent feature of Hard-SF stories. Despite a late-twentieth-century deflection of attention towards orbiting Space Habitats, Moon-based thrillers and mysteries are still produced. Notable examples are Larry Niven's The Patchwork Girl (1980), Roger MacBride Allen's Farside Cannon (1988), Michael Swanwick's Griffin's Egg (1991) and Charles L Harness's Lunar Justice (1991). Moon colonies occasionally survive the devastation of Earth, as in When the Sky Burned (1973; exp vt Test of Fire 1982) by Ben Bova. Bova revisits the Moon in three volumes of his Tales of the Grand Tour sequence: Welcome to Moonbase (1987), Moonrise (1996) and Moonwar (1997).

More spectacular use of the Moon is made by Colin Wilson in The Mind Parasites (1967), where it is telekinetically shifted (see Telekinesis) to within the orbit of Mercury and acquires a molten surface; by James P Hogan in his already-cited Inherit the Stars (1977), which posits that our satellite formerly belonged to the destroyed fifth planet Minerva and was acquired by Earth as recently as 50,000 years ago; in The Ceres Solution (1981) by Bob Shaw, where the Moon is broken up by Asteroid impact; by John Gribbin and Marcus Chown in Double Planet (November 1984 Analog by Gribbin solo; exp 1988) and its sequel Reunion (1991), where it is supplied with a brand-new atmosphere; and by Stephen Baxter in Moonseed (1998), which likewise provides it (via catastrophic intervention) with an atmosphere to allow emergency evacuation from the doomed Earth. A more leisurely Terraforming process has apparently taken place during the Time Abyss preceding the action of Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983 4vols), where it is mentioned in passing that the Moon ("Lune") is now green owing to the presence of trees. The breaking-up of the Moon by an unknown agency inflicts millennia of Disaster as the fragments bombard Earth in Neal Stephenson's Seveneves (2015). Andy Weir's Artemis (2017) has a more retro tone – in some ways reminiscent of the Heinlein juveniles – with the Moon and its five-domed colony base used as a setting for action-adventure punctuated by technical Infodumps.

Besides the already-cited Destination Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey, a number of other movies feature lunar voyages and/or settings. These include the first sf film ever made, Georges Méliès's Le Voyage dans la Lune (1902); Fritz Lang's Die Frau im Mond (1929; vt By Rocket to the Moon; vt The Girl in the Moon; vt The Woman in the Moon); the Russian Kosmicheskiy Reys: Fantasticheskaya Novella (1935; vt The Cosmic Voyage) (see Spacesuit Films); Rocketship X-M (1950; vt Expedition Moon), whose expedition is in fact diverted to Mars; the film serial Radar Men from the Moon (1951); Cat-Women of the Moon (1953; vt Rocket to the Moon); the Russian Space Documentary Doroga k Zvezdam (1957; vt Road to the Stars); Missile to the Moon (1958); Totò nella Luna (1958; vt Totò in the Moon); Uchū Daisensō (1959; vt Battle in Outer Space; vt The World of Space); Rehla ilal Kamar (1959; vt Journey to the Moon); 12 to the Moon (1960); Conquistador de la Luna (1960; vt The Astronauts); Nude on the Moon (1961); The Crawling Hand (1963); Luna (1965; vt The Moon), another Russian space documentary; Countdown (1967); the spoof documentary Alternative 3 (1977); and Moon (2009). A plot to steal the Moon features in Despicable Me (2010). Television series of relevance are Men into Space (1959-1960), Moonbase 3 (1973) and Space: 1999 (1975-1977), the last having the unlikely premise of a runaway Moon careering through the galaxy to encounter new worlds and Aliens roughly as often as in Star Trek.

Several lunar craters and other features have been named for sf creators with entries in this encyclopedia: those honoured include Cyrano de Bergerac, Camille Flammarion, George Gamow, Hugo Gernsback, J B S Haldane, Hermann Oberth, Vladimir A Obruchev, Leo Szilárd, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, Jules Verne, Wernher von Braun, H G Wells and Norbert Wiener.

Early Moon romances are collected in The Man in the Moone: An Anthology of Antique Science Fiction (anth 1971) edited by Faith K Pizor and T Allan Comp, and in News from the Moon: Nine French Proto-Science Fiction Stories from 1768 to 1902 (anth 2007) translated and edited by Brian Stableford. Theme anthologies with more recent coverage include Men on the Moon (anth 1958 dos; exp 1969) edited by Donald A Wollheim and Great Science Fiction Stories about the Moon (anth 1967) edited by T E Dikty [for these and others see "further reading" below]. [BS/DRL]

see also: The Gene Machine; Hollow Earth; Lunar Lander.

further reading


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies