H. G. Wells

1866 - 1946

English writer

A founding father and presiding genius of English scientific romance, H.G. Wells had a significant influence on the development of American science fiction. The young Wells was deeply impressed by the teachings of T.H. Huxley (1825-1895), who was a vociferous proponent of Darwin's theory of evolution and an outspoken scientific humanist. Wells dabbled in related scientific journalism before beginning to sell articles and short stories regularly in 1893.

"The Chronic Argonauts," a series of essays written for his amateur publication The Science Schools Journal in 1888, became the basis for Wells' first major work of fiction, The Time Machine: An Invention (1895), which maps the evolutionary future of life on Earth. In the novel the human species subdivides into the gentle Eloi and the bestial Morlocks; both ultimately become extinct, while life as we know it slowly decays as the Sun cools.

The central themes of The Time Machine — the implications of Darwin's evolutionary theory and the desire to oppose and eradicate the injustices and hypocrisies of contemporary society — continued to run through Wells' future work. The Island of Dr Moreau (1896), for example, tells the story of a hubristic scientist populating a remote island with beasts which have been surgically reshaped as men and whose veneer of civilization, exemplified by their chanted "laws," proves thin. The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance (1897) is a second classic study of scientific hubris brought to destruction.

In The War of the Worlds (1898), Wells introduced aliens into a role which would soon become familiar: monstrous invaders of Earth, and competitors in a cosmic struggle for existence. When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) is a robust futuristic romance of socialist revolution, whose hero awakes from suspended animation to play a quasi-messianic role. In The First Men on the Moon (1901), Wells carried forward the great tradition of fantastic voyages and described the dystopian society of the Selenites on the Moon.

The most interesting of Wells' later scientific romances are those that imagine future wars. In "The Land Ironclads" (1903) he anticipated the use of tanks, and in The War in the Air, and Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While it Lasted (1908) he envisaged colossal destruction wrought by aerial bombing. In The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind (1914), similar destruction is wrought by atomic bombs whose "chain reactions" cause them to explode repeatedly, and the story embodies Wells' growing conviction that a new and better world could be built only once the existing social order had been torn down. When World War I began in actuality, Wells was initially enthusiastic — a point of view expressed in what remained for some time his most famous novel, Mr Britling Sees it Through (1916) — but events after 1918 failed to live up to his hopes.

Wells possessed a prolific imagination which remained solidly based in biological and historical possibility, and his best works are generally regarded as exemplary of what science fiction should aspire to do and be.

Selected Bibliography:
The Time Machine (1895)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896)
The War of the Worlds (1898)
Modern Utopia(1905)
Men Like Gods (1923)
The Food of the Gods (1904)
How it Came to Earth (1904)
In the Days of the Comet (1906)
The War in the Air, and Particularly How Mr Bert Smallways Fared while it Lasted (1908)
Mr Britling Sees it Through (1916)
The Shape of Things to Come (1933)
The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1931)

Film/TV Adaptations:
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
The Invisible Man (1933)
The War of the Worlds (1953)
The Time Machine (1960)
The First Men on the Moon (1964)
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977, 1996)