Standing under the Moon

Something strange lurks beneath the Moon. This edition published by Panther Books 1970

The Moon is so relatively close to us in space that it was often the scene of imaginative human trips there long before the Apollo program achieved that goal for real.  After all, you can see it in the sky – almost near enough to touch – so surely others may have tried to get there earlier?  They didn’t, of course, but there have been some fascinating suggestions to that effect in science fiction, and which themselves may have led, at least in part, to the inspiration for that great achievement in 1969.

In the 1964 film First Men in the Moon, based loosely on HG Wells’ 1901 novel, a supposed first lunar mission finds a Union Jack there, along with a note claiming the Moon for Queen Victoria in 1899. The papers enable the authorities to trace an aged Arnold Bedford to an old people’s home in Dymchurch.  Confronted with copies, he utters the memorable words: “You found them on the Moon, didn’t you?”  We feel that, although it never happened, it might just have been possible.

That’s the point – the Moon is almost close enough that even fairly primitive technology, with a lot of luck and effort, along with sufficient daring, may have been the foundation for missions in the past.  And so the 2012 comedy film Iron Sky has the Nazis, who certainly had plenty of confidence in the lengths to which modern science could take you, making their escape there in 1945.

Another factor which adds to such images is the potential for underground caverns on the Moon where some colony may have been established and could survive invisible from the Earth.  After all, the Selenites in Wells’ story had survived there quite happily until humans turned up.

There is indeed some evidence for caves on the Moon.  In recent years, images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and analysis of gravitational data have revealed the potential for many lava tubes – the cave-like structures that could be used in future to house astronauts, and possibly provide shelter for human colonies.  Really deep caves could usefully provide protection from temperature extremes and radiation, but truly vast caverns are not obvious from current evidence.

Even so, lunar subsurface caves provide a promising location, not too far from Earth, for flights of the imagination.  Herman Wouk, more famous for his Pulitzer Prize winning The Caine Mutiny, used them as the scene for an astronaut to discover apparently utopian societies in his satirical 1956 novel The “Lomokome” Papers.  And in John Christopher’s 1969 juvenile story The Lotus Caves, a couple of teenagers break into Moon caverns where they find alien life as well as a long-lost settler.

On the other hand, AE Van Vogt’s 1963 novel The Beast (later published as Moonbeast) is unusual even by his standards, and perhaps an example of how stitching together previous short stories is not always entirely successful.  However, it raises some intriguing images which stay in the mind.

The hero is a superhuman, pursued by government forces and other shadowy agencies because of his abilities, who ends up stranded on the far side of the Moon where he wanders for days through a series of caverns before finding caves which are clearly artificial and fantastically old.  There he encounters frontiersmen from the American West, who have been there since at least the 1850s, along with blue-skinned aliens of uncertain origin, all ruled by an immortal Neanderthal who has allegedly been there for a million years.  The reason they are there is a weird teleportation machine which enabled unwitting transport from the Earth in the past, but which has an even stranger origin.

Definitely unexpected, to put it mildly.  But regardless of what, if anything, might exist in any caves under the lunar surface, the challenge of finding out what really is there can be inspiring.


Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)


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