Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Happy 145th birthday, H.G. Wells

On this date 145 years ago, Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, England.

Wells, of course, gave us such notable science-fiction novels as "The Time Machine" (his first novel), "The Invisible Man," "The War of the Worlds," "The First Men in the Moon" and much more.

And some of those tales have been presented as memorable radio plays and movies that are woven firmly into the tapestry of our popular culture.1

He also gave us, because he was unhappy with the history textbooks of his time, the 1,324-page "The Outline of History," which was unfortunately overshadowed by his fiction works.

My wife and I have a pair of old and lesser-known Wells books available in our online bookstore: "In the Days of the Comet" and "Twelve Stories and a Dream."

The green hardcovers were published in 1924 by Charles Scribner's Sons. They have beautiful gilt designs and lettering on the front cover and spine. Even though these certainly aren't luxury editions, you don't see books crafted with this level of detail on the exterior any more.

"In the Days of the Comet," which is very much in tune with Wells' socialist perspective, is a story about how the vapors of a comet bring about a lasting transformation in humankind. The book's conclusion describes how large buildings began to be used as dining halls, former mansions were turned into homes for the elderly and industrial centers were demolished to make room for residential areas.

Meanwhile, the tales in "Twelve Stories and a Dream" include such intriguing titles as:
  • The Magic Shop
  • The Valley of Spiders
  • Mr. Skelmersdale in Fairyland
  • The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost
  • Jimmy Goggles the God
  • A Dream of Armageddon
The full text, if you're intrigued, is available from Project Gutenberg. In fact, most of Wells' works are available on that wonderful site.

Finally, as an aside, Wells would probably be delighted that you're reading this blog entry here on the Internet, which is slowly becoming a repository of much of mankind's knowledge, history and intellectual thought.2

In the 1930s, Wells advanced the idea of a World Brain, a free and permanent encyclopedia that could be accessed by all of the citizens of the world and be used to help foster world peace. At a 1936 lecture, he stated:
"I dislike isolated events and disconnected details. I really hate statements, views, prejudices and beliefs that jump at you suddenly out of mid-air. I like my world as coherent and consistent as possible. ... And that is why I have spent a few score thousand hours of my particular allotment of vitality in making outlines of history, short histories of the world, general accounts of the science of life, attempts to bring economic, financial and social life into one conspectus and even, still more desperate, struggled to estimate the possible consequences of this or that set of operating causes upon the future of mankind."
We have much more than just Morlocks, Eloi and Martians to thank H.G. Wells for. May all of his works, not just the fun ones, be studied and remembered by future generations.

1. I have a fun anecdote regarding a "Movie Day" that my son Ashar and I held this past summer to celebrate H.G. Wells. I will share it some day when I have little more time to write.
2. And, sadly, porn. But never mind that.

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