H.G. Wells Essay, Research Paper
The Innovations and Predictions of H.G. Wells
When one mentions the term “science fiction,” only one name should come to mind: H.G Wells. Wells is indeed best known today as the father of modern science fiction. Over a career that spanned five decades, Wells produced nearly one hundred full-length books, a large number of them novels. The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The War of Worlds, World Brain, and several other works in Wells’s canon are classics in the field of science fiction that have profoundly influenced the course of the genre. Because Wells soon became one of the best-selling and most controversial writers of his time, leading to immense popularity, critic Frank MacConnell even refers to him “the father, the one genius, even the Shakespeare of science fiction,” (438). His novels are known for employing strong elements of carefully paced suspense as well as for illustrating his remarkable ability to render convincingly the most bizarre and improbable characters and events. He makes frequent use of the mysterious and the horrific as he develops serious artistic themes. Because of his widespread popularity and prominent success, a number of his works have formed the basis of well-known radio and screen productions; one or two of his tales always seem to find their way into anthologies of the modern short story and science fiction. Over the years the tastes of the reading public have changed, however, and his work has not always fared well. Also, his work sometimes “has themes and characters which are too often repeated, and begin to sound stale on successive encounters,” (Dettmar 380). Nevertheless, he remains one of the most important innovators in the history of science fiction. Though quite often overlooked, H.G. Wells used his “Wellsian imagination” to enhance many accurate innovations and predictions in modern science, the most prominent being his prediction of the Internet.
Herbert George Wells was born into a rather lower-middle-class English family in Bromley, Kent, a suburb of London, on September 21, 1866. His father, Joseph Wells, was a celebrated cricket player turned failed shopkeeper. His mother, Sarah Neal Wells, was a housekeeper and a lady’s maid, “whose fondest dream was that young ‘Bertie’ and his two older brothers should become respectable tradesmen in the service of the upper classes,” (Murray 309). When he was nearly seventeen, Wells finally convinced his mother that various apprentice positions left him desperately unhappy. She allowed him to enroll as a pupil-tutor at the Midhurst Grammar School, and to later accept a scholarship at the Normal School of Science in South Kensington (which later became Imperial College, London University). Here, preparing for a teaching career, Wells studied biology, geology, and astronomical physics. After completing his training in Kensington, Wells taught at a wretched boy’s school in Wales. A year later he was back in London, conducting adult education classes at the University Correspondence College. He supplemented his income by selling brief articles on scientific subjects to newspapers and magazines seeking large circulations among members of Britain’s middle and lower classes. On October 31, 1891 Wells married his first cousin Isabel Mary Wells but soon realized that he had committed a serious mistake. The two “were of diverse temperaments and shared few interests- they had married because of an intense and mutual physical attraction and because in late Victorian England young men and women who desired respectability as well as sexual activity had no other choice,” (Murray 309).
Despite his marital discontent and the many distractions of teaching, Wells continued to write. He first attracted notice as a writer in 1893 when he began to publish short stories in such magazines as the Pall Mall Budget and the Pall Mall Gazette. Many of these pieces were based on advances in communication and transportation, employing strange settings and sustained suspense. Wells eventually left his wife and remarried to Amy Catherine Robbins on October 27, 1895. Meanwhile, he continued to turn out great quantities of publishable prose, including his first novel, The Time Machine (1895), followed by The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of Worlds (1898). By the end of the nineteenth century, Wells’s reputation was secure. On the strength of his growing income, he built the Spade House in Sandgate, near Folkestone, where Jane Wells continued to combine her work as Wells’s typist and the organizer of his time with their two small sons, George and Frank. Despite his prolific output of articles and books, Wells managed to still lead a rich and varied life away from the desk. He ran for Parliament as a member of the Labour party; he traveled widely, visiting the Soviet Union and the United States. He held interviews with both Lenin and Theodore Roosevelt and came to know many of the twentieth century’s leading literary and political figures. When H.G. Wells died in 1946, there was not one thing he had not accomplished. He led a happy life, conquering his dreams and taking risks. After all, Wells “was an undersized boy from the working class who heightened the imaginations of readers all over the world and in the process became rich and famous,” (Murray 315). If science fiction is mainly important as technological prophecy, Wells’s record is quite impressive. The Time Machine can be read as a prophecy of the effects of rampant industrialization on class conflict. Critic Frank MacConnell eloquently lists a number of Wells’s predictions:
In The War of Worlds … he hinted at, and in later stories fully anticipated, the disastrous innovations the discovery of flight could bring to the business of warfare. In When the Sleeper Wakes … he predicted a future society in which devices very much like video cassettes have replaced printed books, and an ignorant populace is force-fed censored news through things called “Babble Machines.” In “The Iron Clads” he predicted the use of armored tanks in war. Long before “ecology” became a fashionable phrase and concern, Wells was using it as one of the common concepts of his utopias. And in The World Set Free … perhaps his most celebrated anticipation- he invented the phrase “atomic bomb,” detailed with some accuracy the apocalyptic power of chain reaction weapons or, in his phrase, “continuing explosives” (438).Wells would use what critic Mark Hillegas refers to as the “Wellsian imagination” as the key to his science fiction as wells as to the nature of its impact (427). It seems as if Wells based each novel or short story on some type of prophecy or prediction, as Frank MacConnell demonstrated. He would then use this “Wellsian imagination” to enhance the quality of his writing, particularly the plot, setting, and theme.
Perhaps the most interesting and accurate prediction of H.G. Wells is very much overlooked. Wells accurately predicted the advent of the Internet and the World Wide Web in his book World Brain (1938). In the book, he spoke about the need for a permanent world encyclopedia that would contain information that is continually updated and distributed around the world. World Brain, written while the clouds of World War II were gathering, consists of lectures and a few magazine articles. Wells sees knowledge increasing at an accelerating pace. At the same time, most people around the world remain incredibly ignorant. Wells is convinced that humanity desperately needs a Permanent World Encyclopedia. Wells even mentions that this encyclopedic organization does not need to be concentrated in one place; it may have the form of a network. Now obviously Wells did not predict the actual Internet. However, this “world brain” that he described accurately describes the present Internet. If still alive, Wells would be indubitably delighted to see what the Internet consists of- almost every conceivable topic has one or more Web sites; nearly anyone, of any age, race, sex, or intelligence can start a Web page. Of all of Wells’s predictions, this seems to be the most interesting and amazing. Wells lived in a time long before the first computer, but he still was able to make such a prediction.
Wells was and is admired by many. Some other famous writers have even claimed that Wells was “the greatest force in the English speaking language,” “was a great artist, and those of us who enjoy his work need not feel ashamed of the pleasure we take in reading him,” and that “there was no greater novelist living than H.G. Wells,” (Murray 315). Wells was among the first novelists and short story writers to employ humor in the telling of a tale, as well as realizing that elements of horror and episodes of terror can be rendered more horrible and more terrifying- and memorable- when placed within the context of a carefully detailed, secure middle-class world. It is completely accurate to mention that it was unique of Wells to make various innovations and predictions within his writing. His prediction of the Internet is often ignored, but if it were to receive more attention, it would unquestionably be considered among the major accomplishments in the history of literature. Not surprisingly, his best works, including The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The War of Worlds, and The Invisible Man, continue to sell steadily over a century after their publication. H.G. Wells did for science fiction what no other has. His innovations, predictions, and illustrious success will never be forgotten.
Dettmar, Kevin. “H.G Wells.” Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 156- British Short-Fiction Writers, 1880-1914: The Romantic Tradition, 1996. 375-396.
Hillegas, Mark. “H.G. Wells.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism vol. 19. 1986. 427-431.
MacConnell, Frank. “H.G. Wells.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism vol. 19. 1986. 437-442.
Murry, Brian. “H.G. Wells.” Dictionary of Literary Biography vol. 70- British Mystery Writers, 1860-1919. 1988. 303-316.
Suvin, Darko. “H.G. Wells.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism vol. 19. 1986. 434-437.
Wells, H.G. The Complete Science Fiction Treasury of H.G. Wells. New York: Avenel Books, 1978.
“The Time Machine” http://web7.infotrac.galegroup.com/…529/49249171w3/ xrn_5_0_A53569321 Online. World Wide Web. 2 January 2000.
“The Internet: A World Brain?” http://web7.infotrac.galegroup.com/…529/49249171w3/ !xrn_5_0_A53569321 Online. World Wide Web. 2 January 2000.