Saturday, October 3, 2009

34. Selenium


H.G. Wells on the Moon

H.G. Wells aspired to more than literary fame. He wanted to be a scientist and an inventor and an explorer as well. So when, in the course of researching one of his scientific romances, he came upon an ore of uranium that weighed no more than balsa wood, he knew immediately that he had found a material that negated gravity. The weight of the uranium was being counteracted by a minuscule impurity of an ore which he named "cavorite." He managed to refine enough of the element to coat sliding panels that covered every facet of a great metal sphere. The inside he fit with plush furniture, canisters of oxygen, food, wine, cigars—all the comforts of home.

Then he took off for the Moon.

Well, we all know what happened then. The Moon-People (though they look like giant ants, as intelligent beings and members of the United Nations, they are entitled to the sobriquet "people") captured him, and put him to work in their selenium-mines. Selenium, as the name implies (it was named after Selene, goddess of the Moon) is rather more common on the Moon than on Earth. Electrified slurries of the material are employed in their subterranean lighting system. Ten years later, he made an escape so daring that it is today as universally known as the story of George Washington's cherry tree, and as unnecessary to recount.

In the wake of negotiations, diplomatic recognition, and normalization of relations with the Moon-People, H.G. Wells sued them for wrongful imprisonment and loss of income. A court found for him, but awarded him only an amount equal to a laborer's wage for those hours spent actually working. His petition to be recompensed for novels unwritten was turned down since, the judge ruled, there was no way of determining he actually would have written any such works. H. G. Wells died in 1946, in bitterness and poverty. After his return from the Moon, he never wrote again.

Which is a pity, really, since his early work was so promising.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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