This is cross-posted from my personal journal. I persuaded a friend to listen to H G Wells’s A Dream of Armageddon, which was on BBC Radio 7. She loved it so much she asked me for some more H G Wells recs, and how could I say no to that?
I own 14 of his books, but of those I own I’ve only actually read 6 (including a complete collection of his short stories). The others were all bought in the last month, and I simply haven’t got to them yet amongst the rest of my somewhat epic reading list. I don’t have War of the Worlds or The First Men in the Moon but I have read both.
Why do I like him so much? Well, firstly, he’s psychic. I refer you to the preface of War in the Air:
Preface to the 1921 Edition
A shot preface the The War in the Air has become necessary if the reader is to do justice to that book. It is one of a series of stories I have written at different times: The World Set Free is another, and When the Sleeper Wakes a third; which are usually written of as ‘scientific romances’ or ‘futurist romances’, but which it would be far better to call ‘fantasias of possibilities’. They take some developing possiblity in human affairs and work it out so as t develop the broad consequences of that possibility. This War in the Air was written, the reader should note, in 1907, and it began to appear as a serial story in the Pall Mall Magazine in 1908. This was before the days of the flying machine; Bleriot did not cross the Channel until July 1909; and the Zeppelin ship was still in its infancy. The reader will find it amusing now to compare the guesses and notions of the author with the acheived realties of today.
I ask the reader to remember that date of 1907 also when he reads of Prince Karl Albert and the Graf von Winterland. Seven years before the Great War, its shadow stood out upon our sunny wolrd as plainly as all that, for the ‘imaginative novellist’ – or any one else with ordinary common sense – to see. The great catastrophe marched upon us in the daylight. But everbody thought that somebody else would stop it before it really arrived. Behind that great catastrophe march others today. The steady deterioration of currency, the shrinkage of production, the ebb of educational energy in Europe, work out to consequences that are obvious to every clear-headed man. National and imperialist rivalries march whole nations at the quickstep towards social collapse. The process goes on as plainly as the militarist process was going on in the years when The War in the Air was written.
Do we still trust to sombody else?
Easton Glebe, 1921
Scarily presentient man, yes? The other reason I like him is the skill with which he rights. The following is from The New Machiavelli:
But fair-haired and quite simply and yet graciously and fancifully dressed, talking of art and beautiful things and a beautiful land, and with so much manifest regret for learning denied, she seemed a different kind of being altogether from my smart, high-coloured, black-haired and resolutely hatted cousins; she seemed translucent beside Gertrude.
The ‘she’ is Margaret, the character’s first love. She is described in long, flowing phrases with conjunctions rather than commas, and a lot of adverbs and adjectives that place emphasis on Ls and vowel sounds. The characters cousin, in comparison, are described in short, sharp, commaed lists, lots of Ts and hard consonants. It’s not just the words that convey the meaning, it’s how they sound.
So, now I’ve hopefully converted you, onto the Recs.
I’m focusing mainly on his more accurate predictions in the books I’ve actually read. War of the Worlds and The Invisible Man and their ilk are great reads, but the science they contain still doesn’t exist today (though Wells is one of the few authors who actually tackles the fact that being completely invisible means you’d be blind).
Wikipedia actually gives a pretty solid list of the prophetic works I’ve not read, and so aren’t included here. I’ve linked those stories that also appear on wikipedia, if you fancy a more thorough description.
Short Stories first:
The Stolen Bacillus, 1894 – an anarchist steals and attempts to use a potential biological weapon, cholera.
The Diamond Maker, 1894 – artifically induced diamonds
The Argonauts of the Air, 1895 – building the first planes
The Star, 1897 – a comet hurtles towards earth (and the Martians watch with interest)
Filmer, 1901 – building the first planes. Again
A Dream of Armagedddon, 1901 – a man dreams of war in the future
The Land Ironclads, 1903 – a war journalist in the first battle using tanks. Wells is credited as giving the first detailed description of potential tanks (considering they didn’t exist yet), but the idea had been batted about for years on the letters pages of various newspaper
My First Aeroplane, 1910 – rich kids get aeroplanes instead of fancy cars
The War in the Air, 1908 – a cockney gets caught up in what’s basically WW1, and ends up seeing quite a lot of the world as civilisation pretty much collapses.
Tono-Bungay, 1909 – Quack medicine, including an economic criss (though Wells had lived through one himself) and some discussion of nuclear decay. Oh, and more planes!
The New Machiavelli, 1911 – Edwardian politics, complete with references to WW1 (taking place at the time of WW2, though) and Indian independence
I lied, have some non-psychic recs:
The Time Machine – seminal novella about time travel
The Cone, 1895 – an alien crash lands
The Abyss, 1896 – something dwells in the depths of the sea
The Island of Doctor Moreau, 1896 – another novella, about vivisection
The Invisible Man, 1897 – slightly nasty bloke works out how to become invisible, including discussion on sight, clothes, and all those technicalities that usually get left out
The War of the Worlds, 1988 – Not by Orson Wells, thank you BBC Radio 2. You’ll notice Jeff Waynes version has a completely different setting and date to Orson’s version, on account of being, like Orson’s version, based the the original by H G Wells (I may have been a little annoyed about that…)
The First Men in the Moon, 1901 – space travel via anti-gravity mechanisms, and big moon bugs
The Country of the Blind, 1904 – it’s not presentient at all, really, but it’s a very well-thought description of a completely blind society, and a nice twist on badly used saying
There’s quite a lot of Wells at Project Gutenberg, which is odd considering he doesn’t actually come out of copyright until 2016 under UK law, but I guess under US he must already be free. As a result, you can also find his books in audio form in various places across the web, including:
Free Classic Audiobooks (they’re read by a computer, though, which can be pretty distracting since it fails to pronounce a single Surrey place name!)
Radio Tales of the Strange and Fantastic (crackly and a little rough, but considering they’re mostly recorded from 40s and 50s radio shows, it’s exactly what you expect, and want)
Project Gutenberg (haven’t listened to any yet)
LibriVox (probably ditto, can’t quite remember)
Other psychic authors include Jules Verne (plastic in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea), Arthur C Clarke (Space equipment and a black spot on one of Saturn’s moons in 2001: A Space Odessey), Jonathon Swift (Mars’s moons in Gulliver’s Travels), William Gibson (The Internet, in most of his writing), Isaac Asimov (Robotics, in most of his writing) and Douglas Adams (H2G2, of course! And eReaders, in a way).
Let’s end with the second preface in my edition of The War in the Air:
Preface to the 1941 Edition
Here in 1941 The War in the Air is being reprinted once again. It was written in 1907 and first published in 1908. It was reprinted in 1921, and then I wrote a preface which also I am reprinting. Again I ask the reader to note the warnings I gave in that year, twenty years ago. Is there anything to add to that preface now? Nothing except my epitaph. That, when the time comes, will manifestly have to be: ‘I told you so. You damned fool.’ (The italics are mine.)
(The italics are his)