Posts Tagged H. G. Wells
So, once again Sci-fi writers, often dismissed as purveyors of tacky pulp fiction, have turned out to be visionaries. All those stories by authors such as Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, about machines in one form or another taking over, are fast becoming fact. The creators of super intelligent computers, are becoming increasingly worried that their creations will soon be more intelligent than themselves. If the nerds can’t control them – what chance have the rest of us got? We all know what happens when superior beings come up against a less advanced species: it’s a case of ‘Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish!’
Of course it’s quite possible that in failing to control global warming, we humans will do the job for them, and exterminate ourselves. All the machines have to do is bide their time and, ”Lay their plans against us” as the Martians did in H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds.
Hollywood has enjoyed considerable success in bringing these sci-fi classics to the screen and created a few of their own. In The Terminator the machines send an Android assassin back through time to kill a young boy who, if he survives, will eventually save mankind. In the light of the boffins predictions, there is a young boy living somewhere in the world right now, who should be very, very afraid . . .
H. G. Wells published his scientific romance The First Men in the Moon in 1901, but it would be another 68 years before a human being took his first tentative step onto the lunar surface. That man was Neil Armstrong and his death at the age of 82 symbolises the end of an era in the manned exploration of space. The moon landing marked an incredible leap in technology coming as it did just 65 years after the Wright brothers made the first powered flight in 1903. It owed as much to the invention of computers as it did to the space race and the two super powers obsession with ever more powerful intercontinental ballistic missiles.
I remember getting up early to watch those grainy, black and white TV pictures from the moon as Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder and uttered those now famous words, ‘That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.’
A further five landings followed but the American public quickly lost interest after that first lunar walkabout, and the program ended with Apollo 17, and Eugene Cernan has the dubious honour of being the last man on the moon. That was 40 years ago, and with the ending of the shuttle program in 2011, America no longer has a vehicle capable of taking men into space. Ironically they now have to rely on their old protagonists in the space race – the Russians, to transport their astronauts to the International Space Station for them.
Manned spaceflight is an expensive business and for now the machines have taken over. It’s cheaper: they don’t need oxygen, they don’t need feeding or watering. They can work in conditions that would be lethal for humans. But it’s hard to empathise with a machine, and no one who has watched a Saturn V take off, heard the awesome roar of that powerful rocket, could fail to be excited, knowing that there were three flesh and blood human beings sitting on top of it who could be blown to smithereens at any moment, if any one of the thousands of components were to fail.
So far we’ve only explored our own backyard, cosmically speaking. Armstrong and the other eleven Apollo astronauts who have walked on the moon were pioneers. They led the way. Others will follow. There is talk about sending men to Mars, but it will be decades before another human being steps off a ladder and makes the first footprint in the dust of an alien world.
Meanwhile Neil Armstrong, we salute you and all the other astronauts who made that first decade of manned spaceflight so exciting to watch.
Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), along with Jules Verne (1828-1905) is generally regarded as the father of science fiction, though it could be argued that the young Mary Shelley beat them both to it with the publication in 1818 of her novel Frankenstein.
The novel came to be written as the result of a competition between herself, her lover, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron, to see who could write the best horror story. Frankenstein nevertheless has at its core some of the basic elements of science fiction: the fanatical scientist who pushes science too far and in doing so, creates a monster he cannot control.
But it was H.G. Wells more than anyone else, who in four of his best known novels established the basic ingredients of the science fiction genre, though he preferred to call them scientific romances.*
Time travel and the dystopian future: The Time Machine (1895).
The egotistical scientist who overreaches himself: The Invisible Man (1897).
Alien Invasions: The War of the Worlds (1898).
Space Travel: The First Men in the Moon (1901).
H.G. Wells wasn’t the first writer to feature time travel in a story but he was the first to use the term Time Machine. In a career spanning sixty years, he was a prolific and sometimes prophetic writer of both fiction and non fiction, novels, short stories and articles. But it is for these four novels that he will be most remembered.
All four have been adapted for the cinema but it was another Wells – American actor and director Orson Welles, and his radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds which had the greatest impact on an audience. On the 30th October 1938, Halloween night, Welles directed and performed an updated version of the work as a series of simulated news bulletins, which had a section of the audience convinced that America was being invaded by Martians. Following the broadcast, Welles was castigated for cruelly deceiving his listeners but it made him famous.
*The term science fiction was coined in 1851 but didn’t really catch on until the 1930’s when it was popularised by the American editor Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the first science fiction magazine Amazing Stories in 1926. The Annual Science Fiction Achievement Awards, the ‘Hugo’s’ are named after him.
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