H.G. Wells other works

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I have been on a kick of listening to some HG Wells audiobooks and thought others might be interested to hear about/discuss them. (note: many are in the public domain and can be gotten for free from sources like Librivox)

"The War in the Air" (1908)

A common cockney guy accidentally takes a balloon journey to a foreign country and becomes mixed up in an aerial attack on the USA.

Interesting stuff:

1. the prediction that aerial vehicles would make battleships obsolete (they didn't exactly, but their ability to be sunk by dropped bombs and the importance of airpower took until 1921 for the US navy to finally see.)

2. paraphrasing: "a government could easily be defeated by airpower, but maintaining order on the ground would be difficult, except in countries with a homogeneous population that would follow the orders of their government, once a surrender had been made".

3. trying not to spoil anything...Wells delves a bit into "collapse of society" stuff. It gets a bit "survivors" or something like that toward the end, and I wonder if it might be one of the first times anyone wrote anything like that. * I later stumbled upon the fact that Mary Shelley wrote some post apocalyptic fiction way before wells *

4. the story about imperial germany making an attack on the USA. I thought it was unlikely, but a wikipedia link from the "war in the air" page goes to a page about plans made by imperial germany to attack the USA, uncovered only recently.

5. Wells envisioned all of asia forming a confederation and attacking the western world.

Stuff I didn't like:

1. A whole lot of characterization and extra story that seemed unnecessary. Also a lot of "Gor, blimey" type of dialog to drive home the fact that the main character is a cockney stereotype. This might have been less painful to read than to listen to.

2. The librivox recording i listened to had several volunteer readers. The worst was a woman who read very poorly, pronounced "row" (as in arguement) incorrectly and didn't have enough worldly knowledge to pronounce "Vaterland" or any commonly known German words correctly.

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Modern Utopia (1905)

The main character and his friend are touring switzerland. While they are travelling the main character envisions how things should be. The writing makes it seem that they are actually there, when they are apparently just using their imagination. It reminds me of the film "mindwalk", but with the difference of changing the world that the characters are in by using their imagination. It's an idea book, with a lot of philosophy being put into practice.

I really enjoyed this book for all of the ideas in it. In some places Wells becomes maybe a bit too social darwinist for some, but I still enjoyed it. I think he also presents a good arguement for the modern utopia, with modern ideas of economics worked in, in contrast to the ideas of the original book "Utopia."

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Hmm. The War in the Air sounds really interesting. I'm not familiar with it at all. I'll check it out.

And you know, the Patreon campaign has levels where you can have us read and discuss a novel of your choosing or even join us on an episode to discuss your pick.

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  • 2 weeks later...

"The food of the gods and how it came to earth" (1904)

Basically someone discovers a compound that makes plants and humans grow to gigantic proportions. This becomes a problem as giant thistles for example become a hazard to try to control. The fifty or so people who become giants before the spread of the compound is reigned in are forced to labor in quarries and so forth and are restricted in movement, treated like slaves and they don't like it.

I didn't care for this one.

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  • 5 weeks later...

"The First Men on the Moon" (1901)

One of what Wells called a "Fantastic Story" (in which he included the Time Machine, War of the World, Invisible Man and a few others).

I found this to be an enjoyable, Edgar Rice Burroughs type of adventure tale (though a bit slow to get to the action). Two guys go to the moon: one a scientist driven by intellectual curiousity, the other a more ordinary guy driven by a profit motive.

It's a really enjoyable adventure tale that I would highly recommend, but I think the book should have ended 5 chapters early and the rest expanded upon and put into a second novel, sort of like Clarke did with "Rendezvous with Rama" and "Return to Rama".

The two have difficult encounters with Lunar beings, learn to communicate with them, have misunderstandings, violence ensues and the two run away. The ordinary man character finds his way back to their spaceship and escapes back to earth, believing the scientist type to be dead.

This is where the book should have ended and the rest used for a second novel. What follows are 5 chapters describing radio messages from the moon, where the scientist guy has been held by the lunar species and yet gets access to radio equipment. He explains what he has learned about the lunar species: they have an insectlike social organization and other interesting things. This all could have been used as a basis for a further story of a rescue attempt, but it ends with the scientist implying that he will soon be killed and the no more messages are sent.

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"In the Days of the Comet"(1906)

Basically, as I understood it....

A guy of lower to middle class is in love with a girl, she eventually chooses to be with someone else, he is murderously jealous. Before he can enact his vengeance, a comet collides with the earth and a gaseous release of good vibes makes the whole world all peaceful and not so uptight. He focuses on the betterment of mankind ( as everyone does after the great gaseous release, of course) and forgets the girl. They eventually see each other again, after several years and he tells both her and her lover that basically " it's cool, I get it". Years further on, he falls in love with and marries another, but still later meets the love of his life and admits that he still loves her. Of course at that point everyone is all fully groovy with being so open about their feelings and they can be married to one person but also love another. The righteousness of this whole idea is basically the new paradise of mankind, loving freely and helping ones fellow man...

I had a hard time completing this one. I gave it up for a while after struggling with book one. While listening to the audiobooks I started to marvel at Wells organization of his novels into books, which are divided into chapters, which are divided into sections. Maybe when reading it, it isn't so noticeable, but when each separate part of the audiobook is introduced it seems crazy.

A couple interesting bits:

Wells actually used the word "commune" at one point in the book.

There was commentary on how clothing and footwear evolved after the comet, to be much freer of design and not so uncomfortable or encumbering. I started to envision people living in communes, wearing sandals and earth tones and so forth and wondered if this novel had any following in the late 1960s.

Wells said something about the main character partaking in vigorous exercise whenever lustful thoughts distracted him, and that he even went out on horseback naked one time (which to me sounds like some kind of weird cross between uncomfortable exercise and some weird fantasy).

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"The Sleeper Awakes" (1910)

A kind of rip van winkle sci if story. Also possibly the source of a joke from an early season " red dwarf" episode....

The books starts with a preface that reads like an apology, wherein Wells says that this was an ambitious work that he didn't have adequate time to devote to. It was previously printed in 1899 and then he apparently improved upon it and had it reprinted in 1910. The story took about seven chapters to get to the point where the guy wakes from his long slumber, and until about chapter fourteen to get to some interesting visions of the future in which he awakes. There is stuff about society and how it functions and should function, and opportunity for Wells to discuss his socialist ideas....

Interesting vision of the future.... The small market towns in England were like ghost towns. The lure of the big city, with it's jobs drew all of the population, and the countryside was dominated by large monoculture factory farms.....

I thought it took until chapter fourteen to get to any interesting stuff, and then the story got good from about then until the final, twenty fifth chapter. I was surprised at the ending, and felt like the book was worth reading.

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"The island of Doctor Moreau"(1896)

At last, a Wells book that jumps right into stuff happening, without half a dozen chapters of character building. I liked that aspect, but the actual meat of the story i didn't care so much for. Trying not to spoil things too much, Doctor Moreau is a vivisectionist.

The bit of philosophy that is a bit interesting is in chapter 14, "Doctor Moreau explains his work", or some similar title. The Doctor says "I am a religious man, as any rational man should be", but (paraphrasing) he is exploring the mysteries of existence and life through his science. He also discusses pain and says that humans have evolved beyond the need for it, as they are intelligent enough to know what is bad for them without pain. He goes on to say that he doesn't know of anything unnecessary that isn't eventually washed away by the tide of evolution. (To that I wonder how many millenia we will have to wait until humans don't have appendixes or wisdom teeth or hands and feet that can sweat, all of which seem to be more of a liability than just something unnecessary.)

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"The Invisible Man" (1897)

A great story. Just one thing surprised me.... The book only gives a slightly better story than the film, with a somewhat more detailed plot line around the manhunt, and better explanation of how the invisible man came to be. I spent a lot of my time enjoying the story and marveling at how very very true the film was to it.

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