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H. G. Wells

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Herbert George Wells (September 21, 1866 - August 13, 1946) was an English writer best known for his science fiction novels such as The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine.

The son of a professional cricketer, Wells was born in Bromley[?], Kent. In his youth he was unhappily apprenticed as a draper; his experiences were later used when he wrote his novel Kipps: A Modern Utopia, which also critiques the world's distribution of wealth. He was a well-known resident of Sandgate[?].

In 1883, he became a teacher at Midhurst Grammar school[?], until he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science (later the Royal College of Science, now part of Imperial College) in London, studying biology under T. H. Huxley. As an alumnus, he helped to set up the Royal College of Science Association[?], of which he became the first president in 1909.

His early novels, called "scientific romances[?]", invented a number of themes now classic in science fiction in such works as The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds and are often thought of as being influenced by the works of Jules Verne. He also wrote other, non-fantastic novels which have received critical acclaim, including the satire on Edwardian advertising Tono-Bungay[?] and Kipps[?].

From quite early in his career, he sought a better way to organize society, and wrote a number of Utopian novels. Usually starting with the world rushing to catastrophe, until people realize a better way of living: whether by mysterious gases from a comet causing people to behave rationally (In the Days of the Comet[?]), or a world council of scientists taking over, as in The Shape of Things to Come[?] (1933), which he later adapted for the 1938 Alexander Korda film, Things to Come. This depicted, all too accurately, the impending World War, with cities being destroyed by aerial bombs.

Wells contemplates the ideas of Nature vs Nurture and questions humanity in books like The Island of Dr. Moreau. Not all his scientific romances ended in a happy Utopia, as the dystopian When the Sleeper Awakes[?] shows. The Island of Dr. Moreau is even darker. The narrator, having been trapped on an island of animals vivisected (unsuccessfully) into human beings, eventually returns to England; like Gulliver on his return from the Houyhnhnms he finds himself unable to shake off the perceptions of his fellow humans as barely civilised beasts, slowly reverting back to their animal natures.

He called his political views socialist, and with his fondness for Utopias, he was at first quite sympathetic to Lenin's attempts at reconstructing the shattered Russian economy, as his account of a visit (Russia in the Shadows[?] 1920) shows. But he grew disillusioned at the doctrinal rigidity of the Bolsheviks, and after meeting Stalin grew convinced the whole enterprise had gone horribly wrong.1

In 1927, Florence Deeks[?] sued Wells for plagiarism, claiming that he had stolen much of the content from a work she had submitted to Macmillan & Sons, his North American publisher, but who held onto the manuscript for eight months before rejecting it. Despite numerous similarities in phrasing and factual errors, the court found Wells not guilty.

In 1938, he published a collection of essays on the future organization of knowledge and education, titled World Brain, including the essay The Idea of a Permanent World Encyclopaedia.

In his later years, he grew increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for humanity, as the title of his last book, Mind at the End of its Tether[?] suggests. His later books are often thought to do more preaching than storytelling or lack the energy and invention of his earlier works. One critic aptly complained: "He sold his birthright for a pot of message" 2

A partial listing of his novels:

The Time Machine (1896)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896)
The Invisible Man (1897)
The War of the Worlds (1898)
Love and Mr Lewisham (1900)
The Food of the Gods[?] (1904)
Kipps[?] (1905)
A Modern Utopia[?] (1905)
In the Days of the Comet[?] (1906)
Ann Veronica (1909)
Tono-Bungay[?] (1909)
The History of Mr Polly[?] (1910)
The New Machiavelli[?] (1911)
Marriage (1912)
The World Set Free[?] (1914)
The Outline of History[?] ,I,II 1920, 1931, 1940 (1949, 1956, 1961)History of Life and Mankind
Men Like Gods[?] (1923)
The World of William Clissold[?] (1926)
Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island[?] (1928)
The Shape of Things to Come (1933)

His autobiography was published in 1934, as An Experiment in Autobiography


1 For examples of his contemporaries' wilful disregard of the failings of the Soviet Union, see the book Political Pilgrims by Paul Hollander[?].

2 I thought Theodore Sturgeon had coined the "pot of message" remark, but on rereading the source (a Sturgeon short story from 1948 entitled Unite and Conquer) find that a character in the story was quoting a "Dr. Pierce" with that remark. Wherever it came from, it's a perfect description of why his later books weren't as good as the early ones.

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