Men Like Gods

The H. G. Wells series continues with a work a lot more palatable than In the Days of the Comet.

Raw Feed (1996): Men Like Gods, H. G. Wells, 1923.Men Like Gods

Another utopian work by Wells though here the frame is more imaginative than Wells’ In the Days of the Comet or A Modern Utopia.

Here Wells uses (in an early example of such but not the first I believe) the device of a parallel universe. [The “Wells” entry in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia says the novel “transfers a group of Earthlings via something like Matter Transmission to the planet Utopia”.] His wittily described protagonist Mr. Barnstaple is a put upon socialist who blunders, while on vacation, into the utopia of a parallel dimension. Utopia is on another Earth that has evolved over 3,000 years from a society like ours.

Barnstaple is accompanied by several annoying characters including a politician named Catskill who argues that man is better off with nature’s and society’s ills since he appreciates it more during the brief, pain-free moments (the-banging-your-head-against-the-wall-because-it-feels-so-good-when-you-stop school of philosophy). Father Amerton seems to be a creation of Freudian psychology (specifically the notion of a reaction formation) in that the utopians interpret his objections to their sexual promiscuity and lack of marriage as signs of a perverted mind. Continue reading “Men Like Gods”

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In the Days of the Comet

The H. G. Wells series continues.

This one is a low point.

Raw Feed (1996): In the Days of the Comet, H. G. Wells, 1906.In the Days of the Comet

Essentially this is a long rant by Wells on the squalid, economically unjust, sexually irrational (to Wells that is) world of his contemporary England. I liked that part of the novel with its narrator ultimately setting out to murder his girlfriend and her upper class lover. The gripes and emotions of a poor, rather brash, young man who has a litany of socialist based complaints was quite realistic and convincing.

What was totally unconvincing was the changes wrought on human nature by the green gas of a passing comet, changes wrought just in time to prevent the narrator from carrying out his murders.

Wells returns to his theme of unconventional sexual and marital arrangements when the narrator enters into a menagé a trois with his two intended victims. Here Wells’ World State (to borrow the term from his A Modern Utopia – it’s called “The Change” here) is magically brought in by the comet.

Between 1906 and 1914, the year The World Set Free was published, Wells seems to have decided “The Change” would have to be brought about violently.

 

More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

The World Set Free

 

The H. G. Wells series continues while I’m off reading new stuff for review.

Raw Feed (1996): The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind, H. G. Wells, 1914.World Set Free

“Introduction”, Brian Aldiss — Introduction that emphasizes that Wells’ claim to being a prophet (a reputation he garnered in his day) rests on his prediction of atomic warfare in this novel and tanks in “The Land Ironclads”. The technological inspiration came from the work of Frederick Soddy who won a 1921 Nobel Prize for radioactive chemistry. Soddy wrote a popular account of his work in 1909. Aldiss points out the technical flaws of story construction and character in the novel.

This novel gets much credit for being the first sf story to depict atomic warfare. Wells certainly shows warfare of incredible destructiveness and long lingering effects, but those effects are not from radioactivity but from continuous explosions, in effect perpetual volcanoes where the bombs land. I’m not sure if this accurately reflects the scientific opinion of the day. Continue reading “The World Set Free”

A Modern Utopia

Well, the H. G. Wells series continues.

We’re down to the second tier stuff novel-wise, stuff you probably haven’t heard of and usually with good reason.

Raw Feed (1996): A Modern Utopia, H. G. Wells, 1905.Modern Utopia

“Introduction”, Mark R. Hillegas — Hillegas, author of a critical study on Wells and the “anti-utopians”, relates the influence of A Modern Utopia on social, political, and literary thought. (George Orwell is quoted talking about Wells’ influence on him.) Hillegas also briefly talks about some of the most notable features of Wells’ work. Written in 1967, this introduction is confident that the world is moving closer to Wells’ vision of a socialist utopia.

A Modern Utopia  — This is the most pleasant to read of any utopia I’ve seen and also the most convincing and tempting utopia to actually live in. Still, its ideas are doomed to failure. Continue reading “A Modern Utopia”

The Food of the Gods

The H. G. Wells series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): The Food of the Gods, H. G. Wells, 1904.H G Wells

The recent arrest of the Unabomber was on my mind as I read this novel. According to his published manifesto, the Unabomber hated technologists and scientists wringing changes on the world – including those supposedly undesired by others.

Wells, in this book, exhibits surprising (given his humble origins) contempt for the feelings of the common man, surprising but not unexpected (given his socialist leanings and his enthusiasm for central planning via a cult of professionals as exhibited in later novels).

He plays into the Unabomber criticism of uncaring, socially disruptive scientists. [As blogger due diligence, I just got around to reading “Industrial Society and Its Future”, the actual name of the manifesto. The relevant quote is in paragraph 89:

The same is true of scientists generally. With possible rare exceptions, their motive is neither curiosity nor a desire to benefit humanity but the need to go through the power process: to have a goal (a scientific problem to solve), to make an effort (research) and to attain the goal (solution of the problem.) Science is a surrogate activity because scientists work mainly for the fulfillment they get out of the work itself.

As an aside, the manifesto is not what I expected — another reminder on the value of going to primary sources instead of taking people’s word on what somebody said. I’m not on with the nature worship thing in the manifesto. Or bringing industrial civilization down. Or mailing bombs. But Kaczynski does make some cogent observations on technology’s primacy in shaping society and reducing freedom — assuming his definition of “freedom” is yours.] Continue reading “The Food of the Gods”

The First Men in the Moon

The H. G. Wells series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): The First Men in the Moon, H. G. Wells, 1901.H G Wells

I had read this novel once long ago and found it boring.

This time I liked it much better though I could not find much of the Jonathan Swift influence other critics have mentioned other than a certain parallel between Cavor and the Grand Lunar and Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms. The Grand Lunar criticizes man and finds him barbarous after talking to Cavor just at the Houyhnhnms do after talking to Gulliver.

I suspect, with Cavor, Wells produced another influential depiction of the scientist for sf and popular culture: here the portrayal is of the naïve, unworldly, eccentric scientist purely interested in knowledge. Continue reading “The First Men in the Moon”

The War of the Worlds

The H. G. Wells series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells, 1898.H G Wells

I hadn’t read this novel since 3rd or 4th grade, so it’s been about 25 years.

I was interested to note that my impressions of the novel have been greatly colored by Jeff Wayne’s album War of the Worlds. [U.K. readers will be much more familiar and fond of that than others. I quite like it.] For instance, the clergyman is a relatively minor character whereas the album affords him a song.

George Orwell remarked [in his “Wells, Hitler and the World State”] that he liked reading Wells because Wells’ work had a sense that the smug complacency of English society could be shattered quickly. That is especially true of this novel. Continue reading “The War of the Worlds”