I tweet, therefore I are

Sunday, September 13, 2015

HG Wells, the writer, and his imagination of first contact


"Nothing could have been more obvious to the people of the early 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."

HG Wells
The World Set Free

Herbert George Wells was an Englishman, a socialist, pacifist, and most importantly, a thinker of how choices made by humans had consequences.  He was trained in biology, history and journalism, and his works demonstrate his knowledge of those fields.  His prose is not as perfect as others of his day, but, when a person looks at it as didactic and demonstrative over entertainment, it has a different sound to the ear.  Wells was called, along with Jules Verne, Father of Science Fiction.  He was indeed a thinker who considered how the present imperils the future, and how decisions will have a consequence later.  For instance, as a biologist and social theorist he is said to have trust Charles Darwin's theories and it can be seen in biological unethical experiments in The Island of Dr. Moreau, and how the island saw striations of power, class and influence due to intellect and ability to project aggression.  Wells constructed other works where he also examined other social conditions, using similar means.


In the present a number of readers, fewer critics and writers of the present who are unaware of his beliefs and aims have mistaken his writing, and suggested they represent his views and outlooks.  That is, instead of understanding the stories as moral lessons, they have taken his illustrations of brutal wars and suggest that he was trying to popularize them, rather than what he was doing, which was make it known how horrible these events would be.  The use of satire and parody often have this as their main enemy.  If the source material is not understood in its goals or reasoning, the following works will be confusing for the reader.  Wells was not a perfect writer, and he is in the present day considered by the modern readership to be rather leaden, slow, and archaic in language use.  But, that can be forgiven.  What the modern reader misunderstands, often, is the choices the writer Wells makes in trying to create a story that shows the tragic consequences of the evils he sees in human nature.  Rather than trying solely to entertain through his work, he wished that the audience would understand better the class struggle, the Darwinian theories, and more.

War of the Worlds is a perfect example of what he did, which was, imagine the first contact between humans and an alien culture, and have them go to war.  And there is little humans can do for the most part, except respond to violence with violence, and hope.  But in the end humanity is saved when a simple virus that humans have dealt with over there existence, the common cold, or influenza, destroys the martians.  A biologist, historian and journalist used his knowledge of the past (first contact with white people and the indigenous peoples = small pox and influenza devastations) , understanding of viruses upon unprepared people, and the knowledge of how first contacts have gone when unequals go to war.  Wells tells a magnificent story, it is a moment of history that shows us how fiction explains truth, and it is well worth reading.

As you might expect, there are many varieties of the story, since it has appeared, prior to 1900.  Comics have both memorialized it, and bastardized it.  They've retold the stories, and used new features to enhance or change the story.  Sometimes for the better, sometimes not.

Due to the inability to create the same sort of feeling of dread and fear using the same sort of event, movies telling the War of the Worlds have suffered.  They haven't been horrible, they just haven't been great.  The most recent effort by Timothy Hines which presents the war in the time of HG Wells, 1898, in Europe, where it originally was set, and follows the story rather closely, is the most effective movie, if movies are your thing.  (The Hines movie.)

But, for me, movies and comics, television and any other medium have all fallen before the majesty of the personal imagination.  My mind can imagine beasts and machines far more sinister than any movie or other form of story telling.  Books are my love, and you should be able to find an inexpensive version, and in good condition.


"There has been … an enormous waste of human mental and physical resources in premature revolutionary thrusts, ill-planned, dogmatic, essentially unscientific reconstructions and restorations of the social order, during the past hundred years. This was the inevitable first result of the discrediting of those old and superseded mental adaptations which were embodied in the institutions and education of the past. They discredited themselves and left the world full of problems."

HG Wells