H. G. Wells’s sesquicentennial is this year. He was born Herbert George Wells in Bromley, England in 1866. He is known as one of the fathers of modern science fiction.
He published classics such as The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The War of the Worlds within the first few years of his writing career. I read all of those, first as a kid in comic book versions, and later as novels.
H.G Wells published dozens of novels, and also story collections and books of nonfiction that had little to do with sci-fi.
He was educated in biology and maintained an interest in it through his writing. He was also a strong believer in socialism.
Science fiction writers often try to predict and sometimes hit the target accurately. When Wells wrote in the 1930s that one day there would be an encyclopedia that was constantly reviewed and updated and would be accessible to all people, I suppose he was asking for Wikipedia.
His bestselling two-volume work, The Outline of History (1920) popularised world history. Historians gave it mixed reviews but it sold so well that it made him a rich man.
A letter he wrote to James Joyce in November 1928 has him being not very kind in his reading of Ulysses and early passages of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake that were in literary magazines at the time. Wells preferred a well plotted out story to stream of consciousness.
Your last two works have been more amusing and exciting to write than they will ever be to read. Take me as a typical common reader. Do I get much pleasure from this work? No. Do I feel I am getting something new and illuminating as I do when I read Anrep’s dreadful translation of Pavlov’s badly written book on Conditioned Reflexes? No. So I ask: Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?I tried reading that book when I was in college and my brain was much more flexible to literature. I couldn't get through it. I read James Joyce and liked his earlier work (Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), but the further out to sea he went, the more I was drowning in the words.
Here's a sample from the first chapter of Finnegans Wake (it's online)
riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. Sir Tristram, violer d'amores, fr'over the short sea, had passencore rearrived from North Armorica on this side the scraggy isthmus of Europe Minor to wielderfight his penisolate war: nor had topsawyer's rocks by the stream Oconee exaggerated themselse to Laurens County's gorgios while they went doublin their mumper all the time: nor avoice from afire bellowsed mishe mishe to tauftauf thuartpeatrick: not yet, though venissoon after, had a kidscad buttended a bland old isaac: not yet, though all's fair in vanessy, were sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe. Rot a peck of pa's malt had Jhem or Shen brewed by arclight and rory end to the regginbrow was to be seen ringsome on the aquaface.
Was Wells correct in his reading of Joyce?
One thing that Wells contributed to the science fiction genre was his "new system of ideas." That approach was to try to make the story as credible as possible. He did that by emphasizing the science, even if writer and reader know that some aspects are quite improbable if not impossible.
This "plausible impossible" about things like invisibility or time travel was new in speculative fiction, Wells added a sense of realism to the concepts which the readers were not familiar with. In "Wells's Law", a science fiction story should contain only a single extraordinary assumption
A meeting of Wells, as in H.G. Wells meets Orson Welles, was recorded in this brief radio broadcast that came after Orson had pulled off his radio play of Wells War of the Worlds and shocked the U.S. radio audience and before he changed film history with Citizen Kane.
H.G. Wells also had strong opinions about politics, though he did not make much of an impact on British or world views.
Wells died just before his 80th birthday. He lived to see some of his fictional ideas come to pass in some form. His 1914 novel, The World Set Free, described bombs that would explode repeatedly, based on their radioactivity, which is much like a nuclear chain reaction.
In his 1908 book, The War in the Air, he predicted a kind of modern warfare with airplanes dominating. In the 1921 edition of the book, he sadly noted in the preface that he had been correct. Twenty years later, in the 1941 edition, he updated again, saying "Is there anything to add to that preface now? Nothing except my epitaph. That, when the time comes, will manifestly have to be: 'I told you so. You damned fools.'"