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Summer of H.G. Wells

Finally...my very belated thoughts on my Summer of H.G. Wells. To recap, I read War of the Worlds, The Island of Dr. Moreau, In the Days of the Comet, The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moon, The Food of the Gods, and The Invisible Man.

After reading these seven novels, a few things struck me about Wells. First, these books - universally regarded as science fiction - weren't heavily scientific. In fact, he mostly glossed over the technological breakthroughs (time machine, anti-gravity matter, hypergrowth-generating food, invisibility potion) to focus heavily on their aftermath. And even when the turning point is natural instead of manmade, in In the Days of the Comet, in which a comet strikes Earth but, instead of obliterating humankind, instead makes the world a peaceful and equitable place, he barely mentions the collision and doesn't even bother to explain how the resulting gas cloud magically transforms society. He never seemed to worry about the actual science, just the impact that science could cause.

Second, he had a great (and almost comically implausible) belief in human speech, and the ability of homo sapiens to communicate with others: the animal-human hybrids of The Island of Doctor Moreau, the moon-dwelling Selenites of The First Men in the Moon, the simple-minded descendants of humans in The Time Machine. No matter how distant from humans these others are, Wells' protagonists still manage to develop a common language with the others, and can fully comprehend everything they say. And those others often have a remarkable tendency to speak like 19th Century English gentlemen.

Lastly, Wells' scientist protagonists were almost entirely incapable of foreseeing the ramifications for their inventions, whether personal (Griffin, in The Invisible Man, bafflingly decides to take his potion in the dead of winter, which means he can only evade arrest by remaining stark naked, outdoors) or societal (widespread death and destruction), and later did almost nothing to fix the havoc that their creations ultimately inflict. You can tell that Wells must have admired scientists in their singular quests, but also disdained their blind ambition and ethical deficiency.

In short, it was another good summer of reading. One or two clunkers, of course, but several books that I will gladly read again, particularly The Time Machine (I'll never forget the image of The Time Traveler on that desolate beach, at nearly the end of Earth's existence) and The Island of Dr. Moreau. I think, as a general rule of thumb, that I'd recommend Wells' shorter novels, when he focused more on action and plot, and gave himself less time for expository lecturing.

(Incidentally, after reading these books and enduring Wells' frequent bloviations about capitalism, socialism, social justice, religion, etc., I'm now less tempted to read The Wheels of Chance, which I've seen cited a few times as one of the greatest cycling novels. I'm not sure whether that means it's a great novel, period, or that there aren't very many cycling novels - I suspect the latter. I'm a cyclist myself, so I know that long rides give you plenty of time alone with your thoughts - and so, unless Wells came up with a really compelling plot, the book might not consist of much more than his protagonist being alone with his thoughts, and bloviating about capitalism, socialism, social justice, religion, etc.)

September 28, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (3)

Quote

"Most of the hotels in that neighborhood look as if they had come down in the world, and they probably have. Not the Minnetonka. That hostelry was originally conceived as a horror and has so maintained itself through the years." - Alexander King

September 24, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (1)

"...this small cluster of aversions..."

From William Trevor's short story, "A Friendship" (from the collection After Rain):

He hadn't liked the whiff of cigarettes that greeted him when he opened the hall door, nor the sound of voices that had come from the sitting-room. He didn't like the crumpled-up Mignons Morceuax packet, the gin bottle and the vermouth bottle on his bureau, Margy's lipstained cigarette-ends, the way Margy was lolling on the floor with her shoes off. Margy didn't have to look to see if this small cluster of aversions registered in Philip's tight features. She knew it didn't; he didn't let things show.

Margy is the best friend of Philip's wife Francesca, and a regular guest (though not terribly welcomed by him) in Philip and Francesca's home. Trevor is masterful at showing Philip's distaste for Margy's careless, almost libertine lifestyle from this list of objects, and then her final affrontery: the fact that she's on the floor with her shoes off. Yes, Philip is pretty uptight.

September 14, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Quote

"You can’t actually make character without putting something of yourself in to each one, even the most larcenous and wicked, the most lecherous, the most pure. Each of them has, in his or her own way, something that you can relate to." - John Le Carré

September 8, 2017 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)