HG Wells at the British Library

The British Library have recently been celebrating science-fiction, with their wonderfully interesting current exhibition Out of this World (running until 25th September 2011) and various seminars. Over the past couple of months, I have attended two of these talks: ‘HG Wells: The Man Who Invented Tomorrow’ and ‘Out of this World Classics: Selected and Dissected’. Both were fairly interesting, but not ground breaking.

A few interesting insights from the panels in relation to HG Wells:

  • HG Wells was a scientist by education.
  • He was a Darwinist, but didn’t think evolution was the constant progress of Man. It could could equally be the degeneration of  Man. – David Lodge
  • The Time Machine (1895) satirizes the white man thinking he understands the natives.
  • Wells was very ill when he wrote The Time Machine. He didn’t expect to live for more than ten years due to a wrong diagnosis. This could have influenced his dystopian vision, especially the apocalyptic expanding of the sun at the end of time.
  • He then became more utopian about Darwinism as he grew healthier, but his pessimism in Mankind was restored with the revelation of the holocaust, the bombing of Hiroshima and other such events.
  • The savagery of war cut through utopian dreaming of building a better future after the war ended. ‘In the Days of the Comet‘ (1906) has a utopian ending, whereas ‘Mr Brittling Sees It Through‘ (1916) was written during World War I and has a much darker ending. – Steve Baxter
  • Wells prophesied mechanised warfare in The War of the Worlds (1898)
  • Wells was fascinated with war and weaponry, but said that if people just stuck to games, war shouldn’t happen. Wells was originally highly patriotic, but the more he experienced, the more horrified he became.

I’m not sure how much the talks were relevant to my dissertation, but it was useful to gain some more insight into the wider scope of the works of HG Wells. An interesting thought that arose, and is relevant to many dystopian science fiction novels is this:

‘Without technology, people assume that what is happening around them is what is happening everywhere else.’

I find that quite an interesting concept. Before the industrial revolution and the invention of the steam train, before telephones were commonplace, and way before the Internet and social media, it was increasingly difficult to be able to know much about other societies – even towns on the other side of the country. Creates a great basis for a ‘what if…?’ narrative, don’t you think?

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