Posts Tagged ‘H.G. Wells’

Book #96: The War of the Worlds

This group is really heavy on the H.G. Wells, and the science fiction in general (I just finished 2001: A Space Odyssey). I’m told that The War of the Worlds is really the book that started the whole science fiction, alien invaders genre. I suppose we maybe should thank him for it? I’m not usually a huge fan of this type of sci-fi. I’m much more into the stories where humans actually get to go to outer space and travel around.

I’d never read The War of the Worlds before, but I knew quite a bit about it. I saw that weird movie adaptation they made a few years back. You know, the one that should really have been called “The War of the Worlds, or Dakota Fanning Screaming.” I also knew all about how they tried to make it into a radio drama and people freaked out because they thought it was actually happening. I knew the general story: Martians invade and wreak havoc and destruction because the people of Earth don’t have the technology or knowledge to fend them off.

I didn’t realize that that was sort of all the book was. I thought that was the general plot but that there’d be more to it. Except there wasn’t, really. It was actually surprisingly technical. The narrator describes everything relatively calmly and clinically, like he’s writing for some sort of science journal about what happened. There’s surprisingly little emotion to it.

I’m glad I read The War of the Worlds, I suppose, but I think I liked The Time Machine much better. It seemed less clinical or detached. Also, I tend to like time travel more than space invaders if given the choice.

Rating: **
Up Next: The Pit and the Pendulum

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Book #92: The Time Machine

I read The Time Machine I was in sixth grade. All I remembered of it was that he went to the future and there was this girl thing called Weena and she died. My memory was pretty accurate, I guess.

If there’s anyone out there who somehow doesn’t know, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine is the original science fiction time traveling story. You’re welcome, Doctor Who fans. Basically, during the Victorian Era, this crazy scientist dude builds a time machine and is all excited to go to the future and see how awesome everything is. He gets there and finds out that humans have essentially evolved to be unrecognizable. There are two distinct groups – the pudgy, friendly Eloi, descended from the genteel, leisure class, and the dark and ominous Morlocks, who live underground and at one time worked the factories and machines that kept life on the surface going.

While 11-year-old me got the basic plot of The Time Machine, she totally missed the social commentary. I suppose that’s to be expected though. It’s not like I knew a ton about the social order of Industrial Revolution-era England. I’ve re-read several books now that I read when I was younger, but this is the first time that I’ve really been shocked at how much I really missed when I read them the first time around.

There is a clear, “Um, this utopia we think we’re working towards with all these machines is not going to work out very well in the end” vibe here. That, I suppose, is nothing that modern readers aren’t used to now. I did think it’s interesting that Wells wrote an almost evolutionary divide between the working class and the leisure class. The Morlocks are literally a different, darker, and more dangerous thing than the Eloi. And at this point, the Eloi have become useless and the Morlocks dangerous and able to literally feed on the Eloi – the tables have totally turned.

Interesting to think about, even today. I can’t say I’m surprised that I missed out on this aspect of the book when I was a kid, I guess it just goes to show that maybe you should re-read the “classics” you read when you were way younger; you never know what you’ll discover this time around.

Rating: ***
Up Next: The Devil and Miss Prym

Book #70: The Island of Doctor Moreau

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. I knew it would be science-fictiony, but I wasn’t prepared for brutal genetic mutation and human experimentation.

It was definitely creepier than I expected, and much closer to something that could happen in real life than I typically prefer my creepy science fiction to be. A shipwrecked Edward Prendick winds up being rescued and brought to an island inhabited by Doctors Montgomery and Moreau.

Doctor Moreau is a vivisectionist trying to form animals into humans, complete with coherent thoughts and humanlike features. He has been largely successful, except for one thing – he can’t stop the half-men he’s created from reverting back to their natural, beastly state, no matter how hard he tries. Some will become “civilized” for a short amount of time, even able to speak and communicate, before reverting.

The island is a scary in-between place, with creatures struggling to remain men and men struggling to control and manipulate the creatures they have created. The pseudo-society on the island places Moreau as a malevolent god, ready to shoot any beasts who break his strict rules and revert back to their natural states, breaking with civilization.

The “civilized” society on the island is in a constant state of near-collapse; at any point, something could break, and all the Beast Folk, as they’re called, could revert to their animal state and overrun the island.

In a way, The Island of Doctor Moreau reminds me a little of a creepier, more unreal Lord of the Flies. In both, you can have a society that can easily degenerate into anarchy, with humans throwing off the mores of civilization and becoming like animals. The civilizations in both of these books ultimately do fall apart. The difference is that in Moreau, it’s animals becoming animals again. The trouble is that in the middle, those animals looked an awful lot like men.

For the scientific-minded, Wells’ book can call into question many moral questions about genetic manipulation, as well as the nature of humanity and science’s impact on society.

Rating: ****

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