This September marks the 150th anniversary of HG Wells’s birth. It’s just over 70 years since his death. Which means that the man they called the “man who invented tomorrow” is fading ever further into yesterday.
But that’s not to say that many of his ideas aren’t still current or relevant. Or indeed that his inventions aren’t still of huge importance in our world. This is the creative force, after all, whom Winston Churchill credited with the invention of tanks (Wells dreamed up the idea in 1903, calling them The Land Ironclads). Meanwhile, Leo Szilard, one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, says it was HG Wells who first made him think that it might be possible to provoke a nuclear chain reaction. You can read about Szilard on Wikipedia – and you can do so while enjoying the knowledge that Wells also wrote about something he called “the World Brain” and predicted a: “permanent world encyclopaedia, freely available in every country of the globe”. OK, Wells’s global encyclopaedia is transported by plane and stored on microfilm – but that’s still pretty good augury. So too were Wells’s descriptions of such variously handy things as cycle lanes, cellphone networks, automatic doors, telescopic rifle sites, planes and parachutes, hot taps, indoor toilets, dishwashers, and 24-hour news.
But of even more lasting importance and relevance than the Great Imaginator’s real-world inventions are his books. Today he’s probably best known for his early scientific romances like The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, but he also wrote serious real-world political fiction like Ann Veronica, delightful comedies like The History of Mr Polly, top quality literary fiction like Tono-Bungay, pioneering (and hilariously satirical) modernism like Boon, groundbreaking histories like A Short History of the World and even the book that became the foundation of the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights.
Wells was, in sum, a genius. It’s going to be a great pleasure to pay some of the tribute he’s due here on the Reading Group. The only difficulty is knowing which of those many wonderful books we should discuss – but that’s easily solved by holding a vote. We’ll read the book with the most nominations in the comments below. So please tell us about your favourite. There’s a useful bibliography here.
I’ll post here in a few days after tabulating the results – no doubt with more praise for Wells and his wonderfully fertile mind.