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About H. G. Wells
Biography and Bibliography:
For eight years H. G. Wells has been writing what he called "scientific romances" that later generations would call "science fiction." He has written his last true science-fiction novel in 1902 and afterwards he wrote only a few more science-fiction short stories—he has turned to more direct and less entertaining forms of preaching—but in these few years he had established the ideas, the methods, and the theories that would shape the writing of science fiction.
Other writers—Mary Shelley, Poe, Verne—preceded Wells, but Wells was unique, and his unique views and methods made him the father of modern science fiction. Herbert George Wells was born in 1866 in Bromley, Kent, the fourth child of a gardener and a lady's maid who had met when both worked at an estate called Up Park. They had been married eleven years when Bertie, as H. G. was called, was born and for those eleven years had tried to make a living out of a crockery shop. It was a living scarcely distinguishable from poverty; they were able to survive only because of Joseph Wells's career as a professional cricket player.
In such dismal circumstances Bertie came along, unwanted, ignored by his father, who was away from home a great deal, and fussed over by his mother. In Sarah Wells's early Victorian world the most important thing for her children was "getting on," and getting on meant having a solid trade to which one was apprenticed early. Wells attributed his escape from this life and his mother's plans for him to two broken legs. The first happened to Bertie at the age of seven shortly after his mother proposed that he should start helping out in the crockery shop. Wells called it "one of the luckiest events of my life" and because of it, he wrote, "I am alive today and writing this autobiography instead of being a worn-out, dismissed and already dead shop assistant." During the weeks he was laid up on the parlor sofa, he was deluged by books brought home by his father and sent to him by neighbors.
The second broken leg, four years later, was his father's. The accident finished his career as a cricket player. Shortly afterwards, at the age of fifty-seven, Sarah Wells was given the opportunity to return as housekeeper to the estate at which she had worked before she was married. Bertie apprenticed to a draper, but he proved unsuitable because of his carelessness and inattentiveness and was let go. After some other failed apprenticeships he became an assistant teacher in a middle-class school. In between his apprenticeships Bertie had proved a remarkable student, and he had come into contact with such books as Gulliver's Travels and Plato's Republic, and learned an appreciation for wealth and leisure and gentility.
Desperation, even thoughts of suicide, were behind his battle for freedom. Education was the only hope for a youngster of his class to rise in the world. Wells taught during the day and studied in the evening, preparing himself to pass a series of examination in physiography, geology, physiology, chemistry, and mathematics. In fact, Wells did so well that he was invited to apply for a scholarship at the Normal School of Science in South Kensington. At the age of eighteen, Wells began a formative period of college studies. For the first year he studied biology and zoology under Thomas H.
Huxley, the champion of Darwinism in England. The second year Wells studied physics under an indifferent professor and his interest faded. The third and final year he studied geology and failed his final. Perhaps more important than his classwork to his later career were his extracurricular activities. He was a faithful member of the Debating Society, attended meetings of the Fabian Society and listened excitedly to the speeches and debates of some of the great men of his time, and, with some friends, founded the Science Schools Journal. He was the first editor and he wrote several pieces for it that evidenced an early interest and skill in speculation.
One was an article on "The Past and Present of the Human Race" ; in it he imagined a time when distant descendants of mankind would be great brains floating in tubs of nutritive fluids, when humanity would live by chemicals and sunlight alone on a planet where it had destroyed all other plants and animals; when humanity's heirs would be driven underground by the cooling of the sun and earth to live in galleries linked to the surface by ventilating shafts. He also wrote for the Journal some science-fiction stories, including one about time travel called "The Chronic Argonauts." His failure in the third-year final had destroyed his hopes for a scientific career; instead he took a teaching job in Wales. He was rescued from that by a kidney injury in a game of English football and, while recovering from that, a diagnosis of tuberculosis. After an extended period of convalescence and a few odd jobs in London, Wells took on another teaching position at a private academy, got his bachelor of science degree by examination, and accepted a new position at University Correspondence College. A commitment to a career as an author, however, had to wait until after his marriage to his cousin Isabel (which was so disappointing that he was unfaithful with his wife's friend within a few weeks) and a recurrence of his tuberculosis that convinced him he would not be able to continue as a teacher.
In 1893 Wells sold at least thirty articles, primarily to the Pall Mall Gazette. Soon editors began to ask him to do book reviews and drama criticism. By the end of the year, however, Wells had parted with his wife (whom he supported and remained on good terms with until her death at the age of 64) and had run off with a young student named Catherine Robbins, whom he came to call Jane. Within two years they were married, after his divorce from Isabel, and Jane remained his faithful wife for the rest of her life. The big opportunity came when William Ernest Henley, editor of the National Observer, asked Wells for a series of articles. Wells dug up what he called his "peculiar treasure," "The Chronic Argonauts," and revised it as seven articles that were published in 1894.
The story was also taken as a book and the result was "The Time Machine." As Henley had suggested and Wells suspected, it was to make his reputation. While he was waiting for it to be published, he was working rapidly, trying to support his parents and his ex-wife as well as his own household, and words flowed from his pen. Magazines pestered him for articles, reviews, and criticism. Soon, however, health forced him to move back to the country and depend on the writing of fiction rather than articles. But he was doing well financially and, as his mother had always wanted, "getting on.
" Wells's early science-fiction stories were collected into another 1895 book entitled The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents. He continued to write short stories, many of them not science fiction. More important for his career were The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes , and The First Men in the Moon, which he created in the following six years. Wells came into contact with other writers and was welcomed into the literary world. George Bernard Shaw became a lifelong friend, as did Arnold Bennett and Joseph Conrad.
H. G. was admired by the other authors, such as Joseph Conrad and Henry James, and was called a genius. Between When the Sleeper Wakes and The First Men in the Moon came a novel that would represent a significant change in Wells's work and aspirations. It was Love and Mr. Lewisham, published in 1900, and it was the first of a series of novels about contemporary life and manners that drew heavily upon Wells's own experiences.
The others regretted that he had stopped writing "scientific romances", but Wells didn't want to be restricted to one particular type of story. After 1901 Wells abandoned science fiction. The rest of his writing career would be devoted to his autobiographical novels, such as Kipps, Tono-Bungay, Ann Veronica, The History of Mr. Polly and The New Machiavelli; to propaganda pieces that often seemed like science fiction such as The Food of the Gods, A Modern Utopia, In the Days of the Comet andThe War in the Air; and various kinds of discursive fiction and non-fiction, in particular his encyclopedic work that made him so much money, The Outline of History (1920). Some critics have attributed the change in Wells's writing to the turn of the century (and the end of Queen Victoria's long reign in 1901) and the casting away of the fin de siècle mood that had dominated the literature of the late 19th century. Bernard Bergonzi writes: Wells, at the beginning of his career, was a genuine and original imaginative artist, who wrote several books of considerable literary importance, before dissipating his talents in directions which now seem more or less irrelevant.
In considering these works, it will be necessary to modify the customary view of Wells as an optimist, a utopian and a passionate believer in human progress. The dominant note of his early years was rather a kind of fatalistic pessimism, combined with intellectual skepticism, and it is this which the early romances reflect. It is, one need hardly add, a typical fin de siècle note. But there are other reasons for Wells's change. The author of the scientific romances had written hard and fast for half-a-dozen years in order to make a name and some financial security for himself and for those who depended upon him; he may have written himself out in that direction. Moreover, he was moving in new circles, making hew friends, seeing the possibilities of affecting the direction of events in real life.
He became acquainted with politicians and newspaper publishers, even joining elite discussion groups. He also made a celebrated renunciation of literary art. In his autobiography (1934), he pointed out what he saw as distinguishing his intentions from those of Conrad and James. They looked upon the novel as a form of art; Wells saw it as a means to an end. He wanted his writing to be appraised "as a system of ideas"; they wanted ideas to enter, if at all, only as an integral part of the artistic whole. He wanted to write about himself, his reactions to what had happened to him and what had happened and was happening in the world; they wanted the writer kept out of it.
In his 1911 lecture on "The Scope of the Novel," Wells tried to set up new standards. Fiction should not be trivially entertaining or, on the other hand, subject to "fierce pedantries" of technique. He called for "a laxer, more spacious form of novel-writing: that would be "irresponsible and free" and "aggressive." He insisted that the author should be allowed to "discuss, point out, plead and display" and to enter the novel himself if this would help the reader understand the ideas. H. G.
Wells and Jules Verne: "In the end," Wells summed up in his autobiography, "I revolted altogether and refused to play their games. `I am a journalist,' I declared, `I refuse to play the artist! If sometimes I am an artist it is a freak of the gods.'" Certainly what Wells wrote after 1901 had to go then—and most of it is dead, with the exceptions of The Outline of History, which still sells, and the social, autobiographical novels, Kipps and Tono-Bungay, with their vividly realized scenes of late Victorian England. Outside of those, only the science fiction continues to survive plus those propaganda novels that resemble science fiction. What spark of vitality in Wells's science fiction has kept it alive while the rest of his fiction was dying, indeed while James and Conrad go unread except in classrooms, and while the science fiction of other authors of the 19th century, including Jules Verne, have faded from the public view? Part of the answer is that Wells's science fiction, in spite of its Victorian furnishings, was timeless in different ways. The themes were large; the fears that he played upon were basic; and his approach was speculative rather that extrapolative.
Extrapolation dates rapidly; speculation survives. When, in The Time Machine, Wells imagines the troglodytic Morlocks as the degenerate descendants of the working class and the pretty but helpless Eloi as the devolved offspring of the leisure class, the political theory on which this outcome was based may seem antiquated but the irony of the situation and the horror of the imagery remain. The War of the Worlds, in various updatings and transplantings, has been kept continually in front of audiences because of the total savagery of the attack and the elemental terror of invasion by aliens. The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr. Moreau are not quite as timeless in their appeals, though they, too, continue to be revived. When the Sleeper Wakes and The First Men in the Moon are one step farther down the ladder of universality.
Verne and other science-fiction writers of the period were clearly men of the 19th century, bound to it by idea, temperament, and style; Wells, who lived well into the 20th century, seems curiously modern in his subjects, attitudes, and prose. When Wells is adapted to other media, his stories are translated into contemporary situations; Verne cannot be updated—he always is done as a period piece, as what might be called "historical science fiction." Verne was concerned with the mechanics of getting there; he called his novels, appropriately, voyages extraordinaires. They were adventure stories built around an unusual journey, often by an unusual form of transportation: a balloon, a submarine, a cannon shell, a ship of the air, a comet. . .
. Wells was not concerned with how the Martians travel but what they are going to do. Verne was concerned with the practicability of his Nautilus and his Columbiad; Wells described his time machine in considerable detail but didn't think for a moment that it would work. In a celebrated exchange of views after Wells was called "the English Jules Verne," Verne commented: I do not see the possibility of comparison between his 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. Wells developed a theory to justify the way he wrote (he was fond of theories), and these theories helped others write in similar ways. He wrote: For the writer of fantastic stories to help the reader to play the game properly, he must help him in every possible unobtrusive way to domesticate the impossible hypothesis. He must trick him into an unwary concession to some plausible assumption and get on with his story while the illusion holds. In contemporary usage, Verne was writing an "if-this-goes-on" kind of story and Wells, a "what-if" kind.
This fact alone is not enough to distinguish them and what they wrote; for occasionally they would switch, with Verne writing a what-if novel in Hector Servadac, or Off on a Comet and Wells writing if-this-goes-on kinds of novels in When the Sleeper Wakes and The War in the Air. Even then, however, the differences are great; with Verne the adventure is everything; with Wells the idea is king. In his preface to The Country of the Blind and Other Stories, Wells wrote: I found that, taking almost anything as a starting point and letting my thoughts play about with it, there would presently come out of the darkness, in a manner quite inexplicable, some absurd or vivid little nucleus. Little men in canoes upon sunlit oceans would come floating out of nothingness, incubating the eggs of prehistoric monsters unawares; violent conflicts would break out amidst the flower-beds of suburban gardens; I would discover I was peering into remote and mysterious worlds ruled by an order logical indeed but other than our common sanity. It may have been this floating of images and symbols out of his unconsciousness that gave them their power, their universality. Part of Wells's modern appeal, however, lies in the way in which he saw the world changing and make that perception of change a part of his fiction and non-fiction.
In his autobiography he described the changes that were occurring in his mother's world in a quite pessimistic way, but he, on the other hand, saw change as providing opportunity to improve humanity's condition Of his own efforts, Wells said: I have found the attempt to disentangle the possible drift of life in general and of human life in particular from the confused stream of events, and the means of controlling that drift, if such are to be found, more important and interesting by far than anything else. I have had, I believe, an aptitude for it. . . . Wells's attempts to look into the "confused stream of events" and find "means of controlling the drift" found expression in 1901 with the publication of a series of articles in the Fortnightly Review, a series that appeared toward the end of the year as a book entitled Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Scientific Progress upon Human Life and Thought.
It was more commonly called simply Anticipations. It was, as Wells said, a "rough sketch of the coming time, a prospectus as it were of the joint undertakings of mankind in facing these impending years." Anticipations was filled with predictions; some were remarkable prescient, others were not. Wells saw how the automobile would change society, for instance, from freeways to traffic jams and the development of the suburbs, and he made a brilliant guess about the tank, but he didn't foresee the development of the airplane (he dated the first successful flight of a heavier-than air machine as "very probably before 1950"). Mostly, however, the book did not deal so much with predictions as the business of predicting. As he pointed out in his 1902 talk to the Royal Institution, "It is our ignorance of the future and our persuasion that this ignorance is incurable that alone has given the past its enormous predominance in our thoughts.
" He believed that it was possible, through the use of what he first called "inductive history" and later "Human Ecology" (defined as the working out of "biological, intellectual, and economic consequences"), to chart the possibilities of the future and to push people into making sensible use of those possibilities. He was the first futurologist, the man who invented tomorrow.In 1936, at the age of seventy-one, he proposed to the Royal Institution the creation of a "world knowledge bank, a world brain: no less." He asked scientists to put together a World Encyclopedia, a repository for the mind and knowledge of the race. He saw it as "a world monopoly" and through it the encyclopedists would acquire wealth sufficient to finance their activities and to manipulate "everyone who controls administration, makes wars, directs mass behaviour, feeds, moves and starves populations. .
. ." But it is clear from Wells's 19th century science fiction that he was no simple believer in progress, even progress guided by such "innovative intellectual workers" as himself. In the science fiction that he had just left behind, Wells saw longer-reaching problems having to do with the fate of the human species and of Earth itself. In an article published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1894 entitled "The Extinction of Man" he said: Man's complacent assumption of the future is too confident. We think, because things have been easy for mankind as a whole for a generation or so, we are going on to perfect comfort and security in the future.
We think that we shall always go to work at ten and leave off at four and have dinner at seven forever and ever. From these two poles—the hope for a better future and the fear that humanity may be extinguished—Wells's science fiction drew its inspiration and its energy. And from Wells's science fiction the genre itself would later draw not only inspiration but ideas. His novels had the greatest impact on his readers, some of whom would turn into writers, but his short stories had the opportunity to explore more widely. He wrote only two novellas and five novels; he wrote some twenty science fiction stories. He ended his 1902 speech to the Royal Institution with a declaration of his faith in the power of the human mind to create a better future.
There are two kinds of minds, he said. One, oriented to the past, regards the future "as sort of black nonexistence upon which the advancing present will presently write events." That is the legal mind, always referring to precedents. The second kind of mind, oriented to the future, is constructive, creative, organizing. "It sees the world as one great workshop, and the present as no more than material for the future, for the thing that is yet destined to be." Finally, he predicted what might be accomplished if the future-oriented mind were given freedom to express itself: All this world is heavy with the promise of greater things, and a day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool and shall laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars.
Clearly Wells was finished with the pessimism of his early science fiction. But science fiction was not finished with him. Wells's influence on other writers: The linear descendants of the novels are clear enough: The Time Machine has spawned the most. It was the first story to incorporate a mechanical means for traveling through time and returning. Every other time-travel story since Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" had used the mechanism that Wells re-used in When the Sleeper Wakes—a long period of sleep or suspended animation. Returning was the important aspect: to be able to return is to be able to bring the future back to the present, with its cautions and correctives.
What The Time Machine did not do as far as the story goes, is venture into the past, with all its possibilities for paradox and ambiguity, although its potential to do so was seized upon by a hundred later writers; nor did Wells's novella consider the possibility of a mutable future. The future, if it could be traveled to, was as fixed as the past. At the same time, a vision of the future could serve as a cautionary tale in the real world of the reader. The Island of Dr. Moreau was less seminal. Later stories often have dealt with vivisection, but usually it was practiced on human beings in efforts to test the irreducible human elements or to improve human abilities, or even to produce the superman.
Thus Wardon Allan Curtis' "The Monster of Lake LaMetrie" published in 1899 may have owed something to Dr. Moreau, as well as A. E. van Vogt's Slan and even Frederik Pohl's Man Plus—although by the Seventies independent inputs from cyborg developments and other real-life events may make simple literary derivations meaningless. The idea of evolution speeded up, slowed down, or reversed, on the other hand, has frequently been used; one example is Edmond Hamilton's "The Man Who Evolved" (1931), which even mentions that neighbors suspect a scientist of vivisection. Wells also may have been the first to suggest that the ability to tolerate pain for future good separates the human from the animal, an idea that John Campbell, long-time editor of Astounding/Analog, toyed with in editorial and story; primitive rites of passage, he suggested, may have originated with the need to distinguish humans from reversions to the animal in the early days of humanity's evolution.
One such story (though in Fantasy and Science Fiction) was Richard McKenna's "Mine Own Ways" (1960). The Invisible Man has such fairy-tale resonances and wish-fulfillment appeal that the concept, rather than the fate of Griffin, has inspired writers to think of other possible uses—or drawbacks—of invisibility. There have been other film take-offs and even an ill-conceived and ill-fated television series called "The Invisible Man" but owing little else to the Wells novel. The War of the Worlds was followed by hundreds of alien-invasion stories in which humanity is challenged by superior science, more advanced technical development, greater intelligence, a more warlike society, or a more subtle danger. Sometimes humanity beats back the attack and sometimes it is conquered. Examples range from Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Moon Maid (1926) through Robert A.
Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (1951) to Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End (1953) and John Varley's The Ophiuchi Hotline (1977). Christopher Anvil wrote a number of alien-invasion stories for Astounding in which the point usually was the difficulties of alien conquest. When the Sleeper Wakes owes so much to the tradition described in the title that the mechanism becomes unimportant; it was a hoary convention even then. What Wells added was the concept that the Sleeper's fortune had grown over the centuries until he owned half the world; Trustees act in his name to oppress the workers into the Labour Company. Harry Stephen Keeler used a similar notion in a 1927 story, "John Jones' Dollar," in which a single dollar grows by compound interest over the centuries to exceed the value of the solar system.
Wells also envisioned, as he did in "A Story of the Days to Come" and A Modern Utopia, cities grown into great centers of population, with the aid of machines, while the land outside is virtually deserted. This concept of the future metropolis influenced generations of science-fiction writers and film-makers, including, no doubt, Fritz Lang, whose film Metropolis came out in 1927, and Isaac Asimov in The Caves of Steel (1954). The First Men in the Moon also was less influential in its mechanism than in its message: Verne's objections to its plausibility had a firm foundation, and few subsequent writers used antigravity as a means of flying through space, one exception being James Blish in his Cities in Flight series. Other writers would seek more convincing methods of spaceflight: Verne had his cannon but Gernsback's writers had their rockets. Wells's anti-utopian civilization on the Moon and the vision of workers so completely adapted for their tasks that they were little more than a giant hand to operate a machine contributed their share to the literature of humanity's subjugation to technology. Writers who influenced Wells: Not all of Wells's ideas were original with him.
Some of them were in the air; others were inspired, in part or in whole, by other writings. The Time Machine, for instance, came out of a Debating Society talk given during Wells's college days by a fellow student named E. A. Hamilton-Gordon; it was about the theory that time was the fourth dimension, a notion that had been suggested in 1875 by Heinrich Czolbe, and C. H. Hinton included several essays about dimensions, including "What is the Fourth Dimension?" in Scientific Romances published in 1884.
Wells biographers Norman and Jeanne MacKenzie noted: The quickness with which Wells seized on the notion of travelling through time illustrates the way he worked on his later scientific romances. He heard of some new concept or invention. He next set the novel theory in a conventional background. Then, having made the incredible acceptable by his attention to detail, his imagination was free to make what fantasies it pleased out of the resulting conflict. Wells picked up ideas from his fellow fiction writers, as well. Oscar Wilde preceded Wells in the use of the fourth dimension as a means of escape in his 1887 story "The Canterville Ghost.
" And Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race (1871) and Samuel Butler's Erewhon (1872) contain a number of points of similarity with The Time Machine, including the fact that the traveler in all of them meets a girl (in Erewhon her name is even "Arowhena") who becomes his companion and explains things to him, and takes him to a large public museum where a great deal of machinery is displayed. The Island of Dr. Moreau is Wells's most Darwinian book and owes most of its inspiration to the theory of evolution. But there were other sources. Wells himself attributed the idea for Moreau to the downfall of a man of genius in the 1890s (Oscar Wilde). The mechanism and viewpoint of the novel owe much to Swift, particularly to Gulliver's Travels.
Prendick, for instance, is castaway like Gulliver and rescued by Dr. Moreau; Prendick's first reaction to the Beast People is much like Gulliver's reaction to the Yahoos; and the final chapter, after Prendick's escape from the island and return to England, is virtually identical in impact to the conclusion of Gulliver's voyage to the land of the Houyhnhnms: Just as Gulliver sees Yahoos everywhere, Prendick recoils from the evidence of the Beast People in everyone. There also is something of Poe's Arthur Gordon Pym in Prendick's rescue, and Wells's "The Sayers of the Law" obviously is an imitation of, if not a parody of, Kipling's "Law of the Jungle" in The Second Jungle Book. The Invisible Man is one of Wells's most original concepts. It was preceded, nevertheless, by Fitz-James O'Brien's "What Was it? A Mystery" in 1859, Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla" in 1887, and Ambrose Bierce's "The Damned Thing" in 1893. The last two of these, to be sure, dealt with invisible creatures rather than men; the significant difference came from Wells's use of invisibility produced through scientific means while the others described strange (sometimes supernatural) natural phenomena.
The basic idea Wells got, he said, from one of W. S. Gilbert's "Bab Ballads." Call "The Perils of Invisibility," it contains the lines: Old Peter vanished like a shot. But then—his suit of clothes did not. The War of the Worlds was in the tradition of the future war novel pioneered by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George Tomkyns Chesney's "Battle of Dorking" published in 1871 and followed by many others, twenty-two of them in 1871 alone, as I.
F. Clarke has pointed out in Voices Prophesying War. Novels about life on Mars and the moon had been published before: Marie Corelli's Romance of Two Worlds was published in 1886, Tremlett Carter's People of the Moon in 1895, George du Maurier's The Martian in 1896, and F. R. Stockton's The Great Stone of Sardis in 1897, as well as Kurd Lasswitz's Auf Zwei Planeten in 1897. The speculations of Percival Lowell about the construction of canals on Mars by intelligent beings were first published in 1896, though Wells had published similar speculations a month or so earlier in an article entitled "Intelligence on Mars.
" The idea for the Martian invasion came from Wells's brother Frank. As Wells described it later: We were walking together through some particularly peaceful Surrey scenery. "Suppose some beings from another planet were to drop out of the sky suddenly," said he, "and begin laying about them here!" . . . That was the point of departure.
. . . Some of the physical descriptions of Mars may have been inspired by the work of a French writer of scientific and cosmic romances, Camille de Flammarion, particularly La Fin du Monde (1894) and La Planete Mars (1892). And the Martian Heat-Ray may owe something to Bulwer-Lytton's Vril, or perhaps to a description of John Hartman's electric gun published in London newspapers in the 1890s. When the Sleeper Wakes was characterized by Wells as "a horoscope" and "a romance of the immediate future, somewhat on the lines of Mr.
[Edward] Bellamy's Looking Backwards [sic]." Looking Backward was published in 1888, but the plot of someone falling to sleep and waking up in the future goes back at least to Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle" (1819). In fact, one character in Wells's novel comments that Graham's sleep is "Rip Van Winkle come real" and another that "It's Bellamy." Some of his ideas about the world to come Wells derived from theorists such as William James, but the highly mechanized future civilization he depicted leaned upon Flammarion's La Fin du Monde, which also may have influenced Anticipations and In the Days of the Comet, and in particular, "The Star," in which the action of Flammarion's novel was condensed and refined into the artistry of the short story published four years later. The First Men in the Moon is dependent on all the earlier moon voyages, particularly Edgar Allan Poe's "Hans Pfaal" (1835), in which a Dutch bankrupt ascends to the moon by balloon. Wells's descriptions of how the earth seems to diminish in diameter and the moon to increase during the flight is much like Poe's, as well as his description of the sunrise on the moon and the moon's atmospheric conditions.
Wells followed Carter's People of the Moon in making his Selenites cave-dwellers and scientists. Wells also received help from a Normal school classmate, Richard Gregory, who sent him papers on moon craters and an article published in 1900 by Nature in which a Professor Poynting described experiments on the possibility of substances acting as a screen to gravity. Similar materials from the real and fictional worlds found their way into his short stories. "The Diamond Maker" (1894), for instance, surely was inspired by the experience of James Hannay, who announced in an 1880 paper to the Royal Society of London that he had created artificial diamonds; Wells includes a description of a process for creating diamonds that is almost identical with Hannay's. Wells got a number of ideas from the inventor J. W.
Dunne, including the basic notion of the tank that later was described in "The Land Ironclads." In a letter Dunne called them "big fat pedrail machines." Wells also used Dunne as a model for an aviator in several stories. Wells's acknowledged his indebtedness to a number of writers, including Hawthorne, Poe, Kipling, and others, particularly Sterne and Swift, although he rejected comparisons to Verne and never mentioned Flammarion. Ultimately all the material Wells touched, including his own life, became his subject, and he made it his own. His vision of humanity and its problems and its place in the universe sometimes transformed that material into art.
He ended his 1902 speech to the Royal Institution with a declaration of his faith in the power of the human mind to create a better future. There are two kinds of minds, he said. One, oriented to the past, regards the future "as sort of black nonexistence upon which the advancing present will presently write events." That is the legal mind, always referring to precedents. The second kind of mind, oriented to the future, is constructive, creative, organizing. "It sees the world as one great workshop, and the present as no more than material for the future, for the thing that is yet destined to be.
" Finally, he predicted what might be accomplished if the future-oriented mind were given freedom to express itself: All this world is heavy with the promise of greater things, and a day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this earth as one stands upon a footstool and shall laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars. Clearly Wells was finished with the pessimism of his early science fiction. But science fiction was not finished with him.
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