“On the Moon” (novelette) by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky
English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)
Original: Russian (На Луне), 1893
Translated by Sibelan Forrester, 2015
Synopsis: The writer of the account and his unnamed physicist friend awake to find themselves to peculiar conditions that they soon realize to be the low gravity of the moon. Though their trip is unexplainable, they don’t dwell on the reasons for their presence; rather, they take to the originality of their position and explore the feats they can accomplish, the sights they can see, and the extremes they can endure. Curiosity gets the best of the duo as they travel further and further with dwindling supplies and worsening conditions.
Pre-analysis: Most, if not all, men are kids at heart. Given the right opportunity, a man can gleefully snicker to himself, widen his eyes at a whim, and geekishly indulge wherever he pleases. Admittedly, that’d be me with Lego’s, but I’ve seen other men turn to putty with the thought of creating overly complicated and cross-referencing Excel spreadsheets or preparing to watch a new episode of Star Wars. Most, if not all, men are geeks at heart. Kids, geeks… you get the idea. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s particular niche was the following: the moon was his playground, his mind was the child; fantasy the joyous currents of air between the two.
Analysis: Like most—note: not all—early science fiction, “On the Moon” follows a whimsical plot purely based on imagination without any finesse. The introduction states very clearly that it is “almost devoid fictional grace or plot tension” (11). Although the so-called plot is a far cry from literature, it does describe some phenomena upon the moon, which the introduction also mentions as accurately describing “the physical sensations of weightlessness, low boiling temperatures, disorientating diurnal rhythms, and other things a human being would encounter during a sojourn on the moon” (11). However, it reads a bit more interesting than an employee manual or grade school science textbook.
Review: As mentioned above, there’s very little—if any—literary merit. As one blogger has been quoted in the introduction as saying, it’s “a tine baby step for Russian literature, but a giant leap towards humanity’s era of cosmic exploration” (11). It may hold a place in the heart of Russian science fiction, but its artistic merits make it an irksome read if for anything other than a historical curiosity. Regardless of the poor writing style, Tsiolkovosky remains a pioneer of thought regarding humanity’s relationship with space, be it the moon or in orbit. He was a visionary. To synopsis his achievement in this regard, consider the author’s own epithet:
Man will not always stay on Earth; the pursuit of light and space will lead him to penetrate the bounds of the atmosphere, timidly at first but in the end to conquer the whole of solar space.1