H. G. Wells (Herbert George Wells, 1866-1946) was a British author. He was a pioneering science-fiction author, novelist, futurist, and political theorist, best known for his science-fiction works, and in particular The War of the Worlds, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, and The Invisible Man.
His novels and stories were written in a period extending roughly from 1895 (The Time Machine) to 1940 (All aboard for Ararat). Other science-fiction novels that remain popular today include The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and The Island of Dr. Moreau. All have been the subject of motion-picture adaptations, often more than once.
He wrote numerous novels that were not in the science-fiction genre: for example, Kipps was adapted into the West End and Broadway musical and motion picture Half a Sixpence, and Tono-Bungay describes a young man's adventures assisting his entrepreneurial uncle in the marketing of a patent medicine.
His relatively obscure 1914 novel, The World Set Free, is notable for the use of the phrase "atomic bomb" and his description of these devices:
- ...nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the earlier twentieth century than the rapidity with which war was becoming impossible. And as certainly they did not see it. They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands. Yet the broad facts must have glared upon any intelligent mind. All through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the amount of energy that men were able to command was continually increasing. Applied to warfare that meant that the power to inflict a blow, the power to destroy, was continually increasing. There was no increase whatever in the ability to escape. Every sort of passive defence, armour, fortifications, and so forth, was being outmastered by this tremendous increase on the destructive side. Destruction was becoming so facile that any little body of malcontents could use it; it was revolutionising the problems of police and internal rule. Before the last war began it was a matter of common knowledge that a man could carry about in a handbag an amount of latent energy sufficient to wreck half a city.
His description of how the "atomic bombs" were supposed to work was entirely incorrect. Nevertheless, his formulation of the problem as being one of speeding up the process of natural radioactive decay was intriguing to Leo Szilard, who acknowledged the book as an inspiration for his discovery or invention of the nuclear chain reaction.
Wells' 1919 nonfiction book, The Outline of History, was an influential best-seller.
In 1936, Alexander Korda produced the movie Things to Come, based on a screenplay and concepts by H. G. Wells. Wells was involved in the project to an unprecedented extent and given a large measure of control. The title screen, in fact, bills the movie as "H. G. Wells' THINGS TO COME," with "Produced by Alexander Korda" appearing in smaller type. The complex story line culminates with the establishment of a technocracy, with a brave young couple being launched on a journey to the Moon in a Jules-Verne-like "space gun," while an angry crowd, determined to "stop this Progress" converges on the device and tries to destroy it.
His 1938 book World Brain is a series of essays on how a world organization of scholars might build a "World Encyclopaedia" which
- could spread like a nervous network, a system of mental control about the globe, knitting all the intellectual workers of the world through a common interest and a common medium of expression into a more and more conscious co-operating unity and a growing sense of their own dignity, informing with pressure or propaganda, directing without tyranny.
World Brain in some ways, with hindsight, seems to prefigure the Internet—but with a dignified sense of serious purpose that is quite unlike the Internet. Wells may in some ways have been more prophetic, or at any rate more savvy in his 1899 novella A Story of the Days to Come, when he wrote:
- This phonographic machine was the size and shape of a Dutch clock, and down the front of it were electric barometric indicators, and an electric clock and calendar, and automatic engagement reminders, and where the clock would have been was the mouth of a trumpet. When it had news the trumpet gobbled like a turkey, "Galloop, galloop," and then brayed out its message as, let us say, a trumpet might bray. It would well Mwres in full, rich, throaty tones about the overnight accidents to the omnibus flying machines that plied around the world, the latest arrivals at the fashionable resorts in Tibet, and of all the great monopolist company meetings of the day before. If Mwres did not like hearing what it said, he had only to touch a stud, and it would choke a little and talk about something else.
Wells was a Fabian socialist, eugenicist and anti-Semite. He despised human liberty, sneering, "Consider the clerks and girls who hurry to their work of a morning across Brooklyn Bridge in New York City, or Hungerford Bridge in London; go and see them, study their faces. They are free, with a freedom Socialism would destroy." An apologist for Stalinism, he visited the Soviet Union in 1934 and denied the Holodomor. In his advcacy of eugenics, he displayed contempt for human life, writing, "No doubt Utopia will kill all deformed and monstrous and evilly diseased births." In a 1932 speech at Oxford University, Wells exhorted his audience, “I am asking for a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis.” Elsewhere he wrote, "A careful study of anti-Semitism, prejudice and accusations might be of great value to many Jews," he wrote, "who do not adequately realize the irritation they inflict."
- "Big business is by no means antipathetic to Communism. The larger big business grows the more it approximates to Collectivism. It is the upper road of the few instead of the lower road of the masses to Collectivism."
Notes and references
- Wells, H. G. (1938), World Brain, p. 33; from Books for Libraries Press facsimile edition.
- Wells, H. G., (1899), "A Story of the Days to Come," from Tales of Space and TIme." Quotation is from pp. 193-4 of a Dover reprint edition, "Three Prophetic Novels of H. G. Wells."
- Herbert George Wells, New Worlds for Old (The Macmillan company, 1908), p. 192
- Edvard Radzinsky, Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives, (Anchor, 1997) ISBN 0-385-47954-9, pp. 256-259; Stalin-Wells talk: The verbatim record and a discussion by G.B. Shaw, H.G. Wells, J.M. Keynes, E. Toller and others
- Herbert George Wells, A Modern Utopia (London, Odoms Press Ltd., 1908, reprint: Forgotten Books, 2008) ISBN 1606201840, p. 86
- H.G. Wells, “Liberalism and the Revolutionary Spirit,” After Democracy: Addresses and Papers on the Present World Situation (London: Watts, 1932), p. 24
- Alan M. Dershowitz, [ Chutzpah] (Simon and Schuster, 1992) ISBN 0671760890, p. 112
- Russia in the Shadows, p. 178