Wells, H. G.
About the Author:
Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England in 1866. He worked as a draper's assistant before being awarded a first-class honours degree in biology from the National School of Science. Wells became a teacher but his career was cut short when a student kicked him and damaged his kidneys. He worked in poverty as a crammer until the release of his breakthrough novel 'The Time Machine' in 1895. H. G. Wells died in 1936, at the age of seventy, and is credited as one of the founding fathers of the science fiction genre.
AVERAGE REVIEW SCORE:
2.5 out of 5
Five Great Novels
An omnibus edition of five of Wells' best and most famous works. The great novels in question are 'The Time Machine', 'The Island of Doctor Moreau', 'The War of the Worlds', 'The First Men in the Moon' and 'The Invisible Man', all presented in publication order. I shall endeavour to tackle each story in turn and then offer up a summation of my thoughts, if I may (also, I rather suspect that Wells' 19th Century idiom has rubbed off on me somewhat).
The story that launched the author's writing career is the first on offer here and it is amazing to think that, when 'The Time Machine' was released, not only was Wells merely a budding author but no-one had ever written about time travel before. In a world whose pop culture is permeated with the concept of time travel, where the longest-running TV series in the world is about just that, it's hard to imagine just how ground-breaking this book was upon its release. Its effect on the genre aside, 'The Time Machine' is a fascinating novel in which the main character travels into a distant future where the indolent upper classes and industrious but brutish lower classes have evolved into two entirely separate human species; the frivolous and unintelligent Eloi and the cunning and cannibalistic Morlocks. What I most loved about this story was the fact that it has as much to say about the times Wells lived in as it does about his predictions of the future, something that would become a hallmark of all great futuristic science fiction. Also, lovers of the cult classic movie will find the novel every bit as enjoyable but with added insight.
Next up was the story that most intrigued me, seeing as how it was the only one of the five which I have never seen the movie version of (a movie which is, I understand, apallingly bad). I went into 'The Island of Doctor Moreau' with only the vaguest sense of what it was about and I think that added to the effect of what is more accurately called a horror story than science fiction. In this novel a castaway finds himself of the titular island, where a biologist has set aside the constraints of civilised morality and scientific ethics in order to reshape animals into a perverse recreation of man. This story explores themes first tackled by Mary Shelley in 'Frankenstein' about where the line between God and Man is and how the dawning Age of Science affects that line.
Perhaps Wells' most famous story, thanks largely to the mischievious Orson Welles, is 'The War of the Worlds'. As I have found with so much 19th Century literature, the original far outstrips the subsequent interpretations which have overshadowed it. Here we are taken to London at the turn of the century, at the time the greatest city on Earth, as it becomes the target of an invasion from Mars.
'The First Men in the Moon' follows the discovery of Cavorite, a substance which blocks gravity and allows two men to break free of Earth's hold and travel in a glass sphere to our satellite. Wells makes a point of referencing Jules Verne's 'From the Earth to the Moon', the only story of lunar exploration which predates this one, but does a great job of creating an entirely new way of looking at the Moon. Here we discover that the lifeless lunar landscape is transformed whenever night falls upon it and that a strange insectlike race of beings, the Selenites, have evolved beneath the Moon's surface. I have to say that I found this the weakest of the five stories but I did love the little twist in the tail at the end in which Cavor introduces the Selenites to the concept of war only for it to prove his undoing.
The final great novel, 'The Invisible Man', is a classic story of a scientist who becomes so engrossed in his discoveries that it leads him away from his humanity and which very much put me in mind of Robert Louis Stevenson's 'The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde'. I particularly enjoyed the scene where the titular Invisible Man excitedly tells his tale to a former colleague and complete fails to notice how horrified the other man is at his callous treatment of the other people who feature in the story.
So, overall, this omnibus is a truly great collection of stories which have separately and collectively directed the course of the science fiction genre. Wells was both a visionary in his approach to scientific advancement and an expert commentator on the social structure he saw around him at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries. The only reason that I've not given the book full marks out of five is simply that, like so much fiction from the 19th Century, the prose can be cumbersome and hard to get through at times. Whilst personally I love the overly-wordy and formal style of such literature, I must acknowledge that it slows the pacing of what are, at their core, adventure novels.
4 out of 5
Men Like Gods
Albert Barnstaple is driving off on holiday when he and several other road users find themselves thrown through a dimensional rift and into a parallel world. They discover that this world is a Utopia millennia ahead of Earth in development, but the Earthlings cause great disruption as they bring with them religion, disease and war.
This book has more in common with the scientific romances of the 19th Century than it does with the hard sci-fi of the 20th, which leaves it feeling strangely out of place in its own time. Published in 1923, to get to grips with this book you have to understand the historical context it was written in. Wells had seen what he believed was civilisation hitting rock bottom in the chaos and carnage of the First World War, but the horrors of Stalin and Hitler had not yet come to pass. What we get here then is an oddly optimistic science fiction novel which reveals that Wells had not adopted the fatalism that the generation who had actual fought in the trenches had fallen into.
Therefore this book would have been only an anachronistic curiosity if not for one element that totally soured the reading experience for me. Wells is at pains to describe all of the ways that Utopia is better than our own world, having rid themselves of conflict and tension and having advanced science far beyond that of Earth. There's also a clearly socialist (albeit anti-Bolshevik) leaning to the author's description too. Barnstaple is clearly the author's analogue and clearly approves of everything he encounters in Utopian society. So, what's the problem? Eugenics is the problem.
The people of Utopia are open and shameless in expounding the virtues of eugenics, which is to say having used science to eliminate undesirables from the gene pool. The praise for eugenics begins broadly but later goes on to describe how the Utopians have eliminated anything that isn't obviously functional or aesthetically pleasing. This includes thousands of species of animals and plants who weren't pretty enough to make the cut, but it is also made clear that disabled people and 'ugly' people have been weeded out too. This book was released long before the Nazis would take eugenics to its horrifying extreme but to have it presented in such a desirable light here was deeply disturbing. There's even a woman who Barnstaple, and Utopia as a whole, views as defective because she suffers from depression after her husband and two children drowned.
The idea a person or animal is not worthy of life because they don't look attractive or they have mental health problems is so abhorrent to me that nothing else in the book can redeem it. There was potential for an enjoyable scientific romance here, but I cannot and will not recommend a book which considers eugenics a good idea.
1 out of 5