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Old 27th Oct 2004, 19:24   #1
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Default H.G. Wells

When the Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells

Another very strange book by the almost visionary HG Wells - in a nutshell a man falls asleep Rip van Winkle-like for 200 yrs in 1898 and wakes up in a very changed future with slightly more than a fuzzy head from too much sleep and overdue library books!!. Like "War in the air" published later in 1908 ( this was published in 1899) Wells makes fantastically real predictions for the modern society his sleeper awakes in. Not only does he foretell TV and Radio but mass media and the undesirable effects of it in shaping almost instantly public opinion, if we throw in Aeroplanes and a scarily modern sounding consumer society it makes for quite surprising reading always keeping in mind the actual state of the world when it was written. His vision of a modern domed city with skyscraper walkways has been used in Sci Fi throughout the 20th century - surely his vision was the basis for Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" , pollution and chemical poisoning of workers feature too.

But it is a dystopia into which the main character has awakened - a world ruled by a strange all-powerful council. Used as a pawn in a power struggle the main character is torn between the council and the weirdly named Ostrog, leader of a workers uprising that has promised the people freedom "when the sleeper awakes". Without spoiling the plot the sleeper has awakened to find himself almost de-facto ruler or owner of the world. But it has become a nightmare and Wells explores a modern consumer society that consigns many of its population to servitude whilst an elite few enjoy a life of luxury - but all the time appearing to promise the underclass riches just around the corner. Wells does try hard with many of his scientific and social predictions and many hit the mark especially now in the early 21st century, possibly more so than say in the 1950's. It must always be kept in mind the times when this was written and this is partly the entertainment value in the novel. Obviously his vision of aeroplanes is quite different from what we know now as is his vision of TV's etc but as I said this is all part of the fun. The plot is a little muddled and it is not by any stretch his best work - at the time it didn't sell well - sometimes it gets all a little muddled. The Victorian views of the world are all too apparent unpleasantly in some places. It must be remembered that European nations had massive colonial empires at that time with colonial thinking to go with it. The view of the African peoples in the novel isn't pleasant but along with the amazing predictions it must all be seen as a whole - a novel foretelling the future written in 1899. My copy published by Everyman came with a chronological history of the times Wells wrote in and several critical essays that were very interesting. Well worth a look.
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Old 2nd Jan 2005, 17:48   #2
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I read this so long ago (over 25 years) but Wells' view of the future has stayed with me and influenced all of my reading and writing since. We often wonder what it would be like to either be transported into the future, or conversely, introduce an individual from the past to our modern age. Do we only think about this because of H.G. Wells ? He's a time traveller in at least two ways. Firstly, and most obviously, his future foretelling seems like a travelogue by someone who's actually been there. Any inaccuracies could be put down to his efforts to maintain his status as a fictional writer rather than raise suspicions about his unusual abilities. Secondly, and perhaps more obscurely, he has succeeded in time travel in once sense at least since anyone who sits down to write a sci-fi story today cannot help but write one of his stories. In this way, Wells has travelled into the future through the effect his work has on people in his future. Even if today's writer has never read anything by Wells, our entire culture and language is permeated with peices of Wells' vision, especially in the field of the progression of science and technology and its' effects on the rest of society.

The Sleeper Awakes is also flattered by its imitators, I'm thinking primarily of Woody Allen's tribute but Philip K. Dick, and certainly the films based on his work owe much to this novel, Wells' other works, and the massed ranks of future based fiction written in the 20th century.

For me, this is Wells' best, although War of the Worlds is a very close second.
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Old 2nd Jan 2005, 19:40   #3
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Its a great book but for sheer scary "how could he forsee that" moment "The War in the Air" can't be beat.Especially when the Jihadists make an appearance !.

I have a book of his short stories so I'm going to set aside plenty of time to read them all.
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Old 12th Apr 2005, 12:52   #4
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In my local Waterstone's at the weekend I noticed the snazzy new Penguin Wellses that they have just published, and in particular my eye fell on The Time Machine and The First Men in the Moon in the sci-fi section:

I picked them both up with the aim of choosing between them as I ranged around the store (knowing that in all likelihood I would go for both in the end). They didn't have The War of the Worlds otherwise it would have been that without hesitation.

As I was browsing elsewhere, an alarm went off and the store was cleared. (In Belfast, bomb-hardened as we are from way back, everyone ignores in-store alarms even in these days of peace. The staff had to go around herding people out like Basil Fawlty in 'The Germans.') I dumped my Wellses on top of one of the B shelves in Fiction and headed out (only realising later that the wise thing would have been to 'accidentally' 'in the confusion' take the damn things out with me and leg it). After doing the rest of my shopping I returned, the store open again, and went back to the B shelves to retrieve my haul. No sign. Maybe they just closed the store for a tidy-up? I went back to the sci-fi section but they weren't there either (oddly, they had The Sleeper Awakes but I had forgotten about this Palimpraise and dismissed it).

I wandered over to non-SF again and found more Wellses in Fiction, but still not my boys. They had The History of Mr Polly, The Island of Dr Moreau, something with a girl's name which I can't remember... and Tono-Bungay. By this time I realise I had to have a snazzy new Penguin Wells and so opted for Tono-Bungay. The title made it sound like a Rudyard Kipling investigation into the 'noble savage' but the blurb sounded interesting:

Presented as a miraculous cure-all, Tono-Bungay is in fact nothing other than a pleasant-tasting liquid with no positive effects. Nonetheless, when the young George Ponderevo is employed by his Uncle Edward to help market this ineffective medicine, he finds his life overwhelmed by its sudden success. Soon, the worthless substance is turned into a formidable fortune, as society becomes convinced of the merits of Tono-Bungay through a combination of skilled advertising and public credulity. As the newly rich George discovers, however, there is far more to class in England than merely the possession of wealth.

An acerbic account of human gullibility and a damning indictment of the British class system, Tono-Bungay remains one of the greatest of all satires on the power of advertising and the press...

Cool. Perhaps I should have been more circumspect given that it was the only Wells title in the shop I hadn't heard of. But I bought it anyway. Only when I got it home did I read the mildly ominous Wells introduction to the revised edition (1925, the original having been published in 1909), where he says (coolly referring to himself in the third person) that he was

disposed to regard it as the finest and most finished novel upon the accepted lines that he has written or is ever likely to write.
So far so good. But

Its reception disappointed him. He realized that the fully developed novel, like the fully developed Gothic cathedral, is a fabric too elaborate for contemporary needs and uses. His subsequent books are either shorter or smaller in design...
Aho. So he was trying very hard to write a 'proper' novel, as opposed presumably to the entertainments for which he was famous - sounds like Conan Doyle - and is stymied by the fact that the entertainments remain more famous, probably because they're the best of him. And the 20 pages of Tono-Bungay that I have read would seem to confirm this. It is one of the most overwritten books I have ever re-... started. Here's a paragraph entirely at random.

There are many people in England today upon whom it has not yet dawned. There are times when I doubt whether any but a very inconsiderable minority of English people realize who extensively this ostensible order has even now passed away. The great houses stand in the parks still, the cottages cluster respectfully on their borders, touching their eaves with their creepers, the English countryside - you can range through Kent from Bladesover northward and see - persists obstinately in looking what it was. It is like an early day in a fine October. The hand of change rests on it all, unfelt, unseen; resting for a while, as it were, half-reluctantly, before it grips and ends the thing for ever. One frost and the whole face of things will be bare, links snap, patience end, our fine foliage of pretences lie glowing in the mire.
It's not entirely incomprehensible; it's just too much to say what needs to be said, and the detail and length obscures the point. It reads as though it was written not in 1909 but in 1809 or 1709; or by John Major ("any but a very inconsiderable minority..."). Frankly the notion of 400 pages of this will probably put me off the old boy for good. So bye-bye Tono-Bungay.
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Old 12th Apr 2005, 13:25   #5
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Goodness, that's all very foggy isn't it? The Time Machine, The First Men in the Moon and The War of The Worlds would have been excellent choices indeed, however.
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Old 12th Apr 2005, 13:34   #6
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By the way Mike, I've taken the liberty of renaming the thread to make it a more general place to put all Wells-related comments.
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Old 12th Apr 2005, 20:12   #7
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I have a really really old copy of The Bulpington of Blup - its brown and flakey and may only survive one reading - Is it any good ar shall I just let it rest on the shelf?
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Old 12th Apr 2005, 22:13   #8
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Crikey. Er, is that an H.G. Wells book then? As you know, my Wellsian expertise extends to 20 pages of a book I'll never pick up again, so I'll pass to someone else.
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Old 13th Apr 2005, 10:35   #9
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Here's a Bibliography. I think the word is 'prodigious':

Textbook of Biology
Honours Physiography
(co-written with R.A. Gregory)

Select Conversations With an Uncle
The Time Machine
The Wonderful Visit
The Stolen Bacillus, and Other Incidents

The Red Room
Island of Dr. Moreau
The Wheels of Chance

The Plattner Story, and Others
The Invisible Man
Certain Personal Matters

The War of the Worlds

When the Sleeper Wakes
Tales of Space and Time

Love and Mr. Lewisham

The First Men in the Moon

The Discovery of the Future
The Sea Lady

Mankind in the Making
Twelve Stories and a Dream

The Food of the Gods

A Modern Utopia
Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul

In the Days of the Comet
The Future in America
Faults of the Fabian
Socialism and the Family
Reconstruction of the Fabian Society

This Misery of Boots (reprinted from the Independent Review, Dec. 1905)
Will Socialism destroy the Home? (paper)

New Worlds for Old
The War in the Air
First and Last Things

Ann Veronica

The History of Mr. Polly
The Sleeper Awakes
(revision of When the Sleeper Wakes)

The New Machiavelli
The Country of the Blind, and Other Stories
Floor Games
The Door in the Wall and Other Stories

The Great State: Essays in Construction (U.S. title: Socialism and the Great State)
The Labour Unrest

War and Common Sense
Liberalism and Its Party: What Are the Liberals to Do?
Little Wars
The Passionate Friends

An Englishman Looks at the World (U.S. title: Social Forces in England and America)
The World Set Free
The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman
The War That Will End War

The Peace of the World
Bealby: A Holiday
The Research Magnificent

What is Coming?
Mr. Britling Sees It Through
The Elements of Reconstruction

War and the Future (U.S. title: Italy, France, and Britain at War)
God the Invisible King
A Reasonable Man's Peace
The Soul of a Bishop

Joan and Peter
In the Fourth Year

The Undying Fire
The Idea of a League of Nations
The Way to a League of Nations
History is One

The Outline of History
Russia in the Shadows

The Salvaging of Civilization
The New Teaching of History

Washington and the Hope of Peace (U.S. title: Washington and the Riddle of Peace)
What H.G. Wells Thinks about ‘The Mind in the Making’
The Secret Places of the Heart
University of London Election: An Electoral Letter
The World, its Debts and the Rich Men
A Short History of the World

Men Like Gods
Socialism and the Scientific Motive
To the Electors of London University, University General Election, 1923, from H.G. Wells, B.Sc., London
The Labour Ideal of Education
A Walk Along the Thames Embankment

The Story of a Great School Master
The Dream
The P.R. Parliament
A Year of Prophesying

Christina Alberta's Father
A Forecast of the World’s Affairs

The World of William Clissold
Mr. Belloc Objects to the Outline of History

Democracy Under Revision
Playing at Peace
Meanwhile: The Picture of a Lady
The Complete Short Stories of H.G. Wells

The Way the World is Going
The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution
Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island
The Book of Catherine Wells

The King Who Was A King
Common Sense of World Peace
The Adventures of Tommy
Imperialism and The Open Conspiracy

The Autocracy of Mr.Parham
The Science of Life

(co-written with Julian S. Huxley and G.P. Wells)
The Way to World Peace
The Problem of the Troublesome Collaborator
Settlement of the Trouble between Mr. Thring and Mr. Wells: A Footnote to the Problem of the Troublesome Collaborator

What Are We To Do With Our Lives? (revision of Open Conspiracy)
The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind

After Democracy
The Bulpington of Blup
What Should be Done Now?

The Shape of Things to Come

Experiment in Autobiography
Stalin-Wells Talk: the Verbatim Record and a discussion by G. Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, J.M. Keynes, Ernst Toller and others, with three caricatures and cover design by Low

The New America: The New World
Things to Come: A Film Story

The Anatomy of Frustration
The Croquet Player
The Idea of a World Encyclopaedia
Man Who Could Work Miracles

Star Begotten
The Camford Visitation
The Informative Content of Education

The Brothers
World Brain
Apropos of Dolores

The Holy Terror
Travels of a Republican Radical in Search of Hot Water
The Fate of Homo Sapiens
(U.S. title: The Fate of Man)
The New World Order

The Rights of Man, Or What Are We Fighting For?
Babes in the Darkling Wood
The Common Sense of War and Peace
All Aboard for Ararat

Guide to the New World
You Can't Be Too Careful

The Outlook for Homo Sapiens
Science and the World-Mind
Phoenix: A Summary of Inescapable Conditions of World Reorganization
A Thesis on the Quality of Illusion in Continuity of Individual Life of the Higher Metazoa…
The Conquest of Time
The New Rights of Man

Crux Ansata
The Mosley Outrage

A Contemporary Memoir

Mind at the End of Its Tether
The Happy Turning
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Old 18th Apr 2005, 22:20   #10
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Over the weekend I read The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, each in their handsome new Penguin edition. I know I am in a minority here, and may be considered as dastardly as one who refuses to read Jeanette Winterson books on the grounds that she's a bit of a minger (hem hem), but dammit, I'm sure the beauty of these solid, black, compact little volumes enhanced my enjoyment of them no end.

The Time Machine is a tiny wee thing of 90 pages which I read in, as they say, a sitting (or, as I say, a lying, as I was in bed at the time). It has that authentic 19th-century technique of the narrator-within-the-narrator, as our guide tells us of an evening spent with his acquaintance The Time Traveller. (No other name is ever used, and quite reasonably too: once you've time travelled, what more interesting or useful way is there ever going to be of identifying you?) The Time Traveller speaks of his experiments in the 'fourth dimension' of time, and specifically of his recent visit to the year 802,701 AD, where he finds that mankind has evolved into two separate species, complete with handy allegorical qualities.

The comparison here is with Arthur Conan Doyle, and specifically the gentleman adventurers of The Lost World: though where Wells lacks Doyle's easy way with an effortless dash of characterisation, he exceeds his holmelier contemporary in authority of tone. There's something brilliantly didactic and believable about Wells's fiction: you genuinely sense that there are truths being passed down to you from a higher source. This is best displayed toward the end, where the book moved up a gear for me from four-star diversion to five-star wowser. First the Time Traveller - when he regains the machine after a bit of adventuring which forms the meat of the plot - instead of returning straight to the 19th century, goes further and further forward, and witnesses the earth after the death of mankind, a nightfall of civilisation far more powerful to my mind - and a damn sight shorter - than David Mitchell's central future dystopia in Cloud Atlas. Then we get a nice bit of final plot twist, when we're back in the hands of our original narrator. And to cap it all, a cracking epilogue which immediately overturned my feeling that an epilogue, after what had just gone before, was a step too far. It ends with the words that amner kindly put in a last-words quiz recently, the full force of which are only clear when the rest has gone before:

And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers - shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle - to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.
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