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The Shape of Things

Author: Colin Davies
March 12, 2019

There are three fathers of modern Science Fiction. Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967) produced the world’s first sci-fi magazine (Amazing Stories). Out of the 6 stories published, two were from the other founding fathers. One from Jules Verne (1828-1905); the other was from H G Wells (1866-1946).

Where Verne’s stories were full of adventure, taking man deep beneath the ocean waves or on journeys under the very surface of the earth; Wells used his journalistic training to weave tales that felt like they were being reported on as the story unfolded.

This understanding of the social divide is illustrated in his book ‘The Time Machine’ (1895). Where prediction of the human race splitting into two species. The ‘Leisure Classes’ (upper middle to upper class) have become the passive child like simple race of the Eloi who live above ground, and the ‘Working Classes’ who have become the troglodyte Morlocks that dwell underground and only come to the surface at night. The time travelling narrator of the story, after discovering that the Morlocks feed on the Eloi, concludes that over the many hundreds of thousands of years intelligence had become less important to survival, and as such this modern world now has the two species existing as a kind of ‘rancher and livestock.”

He saw the upper classes becoming more and more stupid, and the working classes becoming progressively violent towards them. Yet, both tribes needed each other for survival.

His astute observations led to H G Wells make two very accurate predictions. In his 1933 novel ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ which he adapted for the screen in 1936 as the film ‘Things to Come’, he describes a “Second World War” that starts in 1940 between Germany and Poland spilling out across other European countries. He describes cites being laid waste by aerial bombardment; bombs being drop on to the building from aeroplanes. In his version, written some six years before the actual events, Wells has Britain as a neutral country and America involved in an endless war with Japan.

However, way before this stab at fortune telling Wells hits on an idea that would turn out to be an incredibly close prediction about the future of weaponry. In 1914 Wells published ‘The World Set Free’. At the time of writing it was already know that elements like Radium decayed over a large number of years and that, even though this slow release didn’t seem like much, the overall amount of energy released is actually very high.

Of course being as no one had made an atomic bomb by this time Wells had to rely on his knowledge of science and his mighty imagination. His nuclear device was about the size of a hand grenade and operated in much the same way. It had no more power than a conventional explosive, it just lasted longer. He described it as not one short explosion rather a continual explosion; A bomb exploding constantly for 17 straight days. An equal amounts of damage would be done on  each of these days until all the energy was used up. This may not be how the actual process works but Leó Szilárd, the physicist who conceived the idea of nuclear chain reaction cited ‘The World Set Free’ as having made a great impression on him and inspired his own thinking on the subject.

Wells skills as a journalist have a great effect in ‘The War of the Worlds’ (1897). With in these pages of alien invasion from another planet, he describes scenes of ‘total war’ with thousands of people being displaced from their homes and migrating to London to find safe passage away from the fighting, or so they thought. At the time of publication no one had witnessed such events. In fact the concept of such far reaching destruction was so far out from the norm that people didn’t take it seriously at the time.

It wasn’t until World War II that ideas first covered in The War of the Worlds become real. It was these resonances that took what was one of his weakest titles at the time (in terms of sales), and gave it a new lease of life. The timing of Orson Wells 1938 radio adaptation also helped. H G Wells thanked the visionary director for bringing prominence to one of his lesser known titles. The radio play was a major contributing factor in getting people to wake up and take note of how vulnerable we truly are

When the Martians were defeated it was not the might of the British Empire that had conjured up a victory. It was not the great minds coming together to provide an answer to the question of the threat. It was nothing more that the common cold and the fact the invading aliens immune systems had no way to fight it. An idea not without president as many people died in the remote tribes of Africa for the very same reason once the Missionaries had started visiting to spread the word of god to the “savages”

H G Wells strength as a Journalist, his fascination and expertise in the world of science and evolution, that later being very much in its infancy, his own feelings on social injustice and socialism all combined to give the world a catalogue of ideas wrapped in quality, detailed, descriptive pros that still have relevance today.

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