September 21, 2011
The career of H.G. WELLS (1866-1946), author of such immortal works as The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds, might seem to pose a conundrum for my Radium Age Science Fiction schema. Q: How can a distinct era of sf begin circa 1904, when the so-called Father of Science Fiction began publishing in 1888 (story version of The Time Machine) but didn’t quit until 1937 (Star Begotten)? A: Although he continued to write novels “intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision,” as Hugo Gernsback would describe the Wellsian oeuvre, after the early 1900s Wells lost his touch. “It is full of lively ingredients; it has no organic life,” writes Brian Aldiss of The World Set Free (1914). “Wells the One-Man Think-Tank has burst into view. His books are no longer novels but gospels.” According to Aldiss and other publicists of sf’s so-called Golden Age (c. 1934-63), the first three-and-a-half decades of the 20th century are science fiction’s Dark Age; I strongly disagree, but it’s true that the Verne-Wells-Poe “scientific romance” era ended with Wells’s The Food of the Gods (1904). Wells’s great talent helped define an era; and the decline of that talent marked the era’s end. No room, here, to discuss Wells’s utopianism, his flirtation with eugenics and Stalinism, his prodigious output and sexual appetite. Instead, I’ll end by noting that even Wells’s post-1904 novels merit a browse. Also: Check out his game-theory books, written for kids: Floor Games (1911) and Little Wars (1913).
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