Monday, 21 September 2009

Happy HG Wells Day!


Today, 21 September, sees what would have been the 143rd birthday of the genius of Herbert George Wells.

Today will see the usual material pulled out, with commentary upon his War of the Worlds and, possibly my favourite, The Time Machine, but I like to try and do something different here. Many will liken Wells to Jules Verne, but I will leave commentary upon that subject to the great HG and Jules themselves:

I do not see the possibility of comparison between his (Wells) work and mine. We do not proceed in the same manner. It occurs to me that his stories do not repose on a very scientific basis. No, there is no rapport between his work and mine. I make use of physics. He invents. I go to the moon in a cannon-ball discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars [sic] in an air-ship, which he constructs of a metal which does away with the law of gravitation. Ca, c'est tres joli, but show me this metal. Let him produce it.
As well as being one of the most influential authors of his, and subsequent, time, Wells was also a great social thinker and activist, being an active Fabian. his reposte to Verne ran:

There's a quality in the worst of my so-called "pseudo-scientific" (imbecile adjective) stuff which differentiates it from Jules Verne, e.g., just as Swift is differentiated from Fantasia—isn't there? There is something other that either story writing or artistic merit which has emerged through the series of my books. Something one might regard as a new system of ideas—"thought."
Wells was about ideas, about how humans interact amongst themselves and with new development. His non-fictional writing is as interesting as his fiction. He was passionate about science, and about the possibilities which it unlocked for human potential - his publications upon war were concerned with minimising the impact which war had upon society, leading to his exploration of more efficient ways of conducting military actions and the use of technology to do so - notoriously the "Land Iron Clads", which he first published in 1903 (you can read it online here). He is also credited with being the inventor of recreational war gaming, and his Little Wars of 1913 may indeed have been the first miniature war game.

His writing on the future, upon the bettering of society but also upon the efficiency of the military war machine and the conduct of war, can be understood when you recognise that Wells was an ardent utopian. His Modern Utopia, The Shape of Things to Come, In the Days of the Comet are all brilliant, and Wells invented the dystopia with When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) and he explores the dark side of human nature in The Island of Doctor Moreau, a well as the fascistic authoritarianism in The Autocracy of Mr Parham and The Holy Terror.

His utopianism is probably most evident in his work on the League of Nations charter, and in his enthusiasm for a world state and, in a way which would be horrifying later in the twentieth century, eugenics. You can read excerpts from his New World Order here. He met world leaders, personally meeting and interviewing Stalin (a transcript is available here) and Roosevelt in 1934, in an attempt to bring about a better world, but ultimately he died a disappointed man, writing that it may be better for humanity to become extinct and replaced, a notion which he had harboured for most of his life (his thoughts on human extinction may be read here).

A brilliant article upon the life and works of Wells may be found here.

A piece on his influence on history may be found here.

If you fancy building yourself a model Land Iron Clad, try this.

The HG Wells Society may be found here.

Possibly the most faithful (but ultimately commercially unviable) rendition on screen of his War of the Worlds may be found here.


Oh, and if you use Google, and have wondered what all the crop circles and other strange logos have been about for the past month - it has all been leading up to today. The mystery is unravelled here.