Time Travel and Mayhem: A Literary Tour of H.G. Wells’ Stories

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Herbert George Wells has been referred to as “The Father of Science Fiction,” although his mid to late period novels were all tales of suffering suffragists and sad arsonists. He was born on September 21st, 1866, the same year that transatlantic telegraphs were possible, and much of his childhood was spent reading library books and daydreaming. To celebrate his birthday, we’ve decided to compile a list of our favorite science fiction novels, philosophical treatises, and novellas by the esteemed author. As always, let us know in the comments section which sci-fi stories changed your view of the world.

The Invisible Man

Where: A village in southeast England

What happens: A masked stranger enters the town, and the residents become highly suspicious of his activities. The stranger is a desperately poor scientist who has experimented on himself, and is now completely invisible, which was cool at first, but then became kind of depressing when it didn’t wear off. The subtitle is “A Grotesque Romance,” by the way. Take from that what you will.

What we learn: Invisibility is a drag, especially for a prolonged period of time.

The War of the Worlds

Where: The suburbs of London

What happens: Squiggly-legged martians land in England and fry people with their sophisticated heat-ray guns (always handy), and begin to wage war against the puny Earthlings.

What we learn: 1.) Bio-warfare is useful against invading species, and 2.) war is inherently amoral, and only the nasty and brutish (read: fittest) survive.

The Time Machine

Where: From Surrey to 802,701 A.D. (whoa!)

What happens: The time-traveling English scientist meets a group of vapid armchair liberals named Eloi who are afraid of the dark and live above ground, and the Morlocks, who fear light and toil underground, gobbling up the delicious Eloi when they get hunger pangs.

What we learn: You can’t just go around time-traveling and talking about palaces and beautiful maidens and expect people in the R.W. to believe you. It doesn’t work that way.

The Island of Doctor Moreau

Where: An unnamed island

What happens: An upper class gent named Edward Prendick is on a boat, which capsizes, and he is saved by a dude named Montgomery who is sailing with a bunch of animals on board. When they reach a nearby island, we discover that it is inhabited by a group of “Beast Folk” as well as Dr. Moreau, an English man of letters who enjoys cutting up animals in the name of science.

What we learn: Vivisection is wrong!

When the Sleeper Wakes

Where: London

What happens: Graham awakens from a deep sleep and realizes he’s been napping for a few hundred years. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the metropolis since he saw it last. Oh, and that compound interest in his bank account really worked in his favor, so Graham is now the richest man in the world, and therefore the ruler of it, though he’s put under house arrest by a group known as the White Council, who are the executors of his trust.

What we learn: Mo’ money mo’ problems.

The First Men in the Moon

Where: Space!

What happens: An English businessman and his neighbor, a wacky scientist, decide to team up and build a spaceship. When they land on the Moon, they are kidnapped by Moon people and the businessman eventually escapes, though the scientists stays and ends up becoming a sort of popular radio broadcaster there.

What we learn: Be very careful about how you portray humans when speaking to Moon people. They will not hesitate to cut off all ties to Earth, and then you’ll be stranded there.

A Modern Utopia

Where: A kinetic, modern Utopian state

What happens: You are to “clear your mind of any preconceptions” and read about a world where all people make decent wages, women are treated with respect, and everyone is happy. It’s a hybrid novel, so it’s a little bit philosophy, and a little bit fiction.

What we learn: Sometimes the “whitest plump men” come up with some pretty great ideas about how to transform society.

The Shape of Things to Come

Where: Modern society in the years 1933-2106

What happens: Wells predicts a second World War that will take place around January 1940, and will drag on for years, almost destroying all civilization. A benevolent dictatorship takes over after that, with English as the ruling language.

What we learn: Sci-fi novels can be incredibly prescient.

In the Days of the Comet

Where: An industrial city in England

What happens: An unemployed student pines for a girl who doesn’t return his affections, and plans on killing her, the paramour, and himself (he’s a stand up guy, after all), but is interrupted by the appearance of a big green comet and some warships in the horizon.

What we learn: Breathing mysterious clouds of green gas makes us better people.

The World Set Free

Where: The modern world

What happens: This is a history of key people and events in the 20th Century, and transitions from fact to fiction as time progresses. It was written just as World War I was breaking out, and mentions the future existence of nuclear weapons, which, of course, almost destroy everything we know and love.

What we learn: War is the inevitable result when democracy fails.