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Sunday, September 21, 2014

September 21 - Birthday of H.G. Wells (Father of Sci Fi)

H. G. Wells (1866-1946)
This day was born in 1866, in Bromley, England, writer H[erbert] G[eorge] Wells, father of Futurism and Sci Fi. He was born to shopkeeper parents who were not successful and had to give up their store. Instead, his mother worked as a housekeeper on an estate with a large library, from which she brought books to young H.G. to read. He was sickly as a child and his older sister died in childhood.

He won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science and this set him up for a life writing on scientific themes, with a focus on predicting and envisioning the future.

Wells' first book in the Sci Fi genre was The Time Machine (1895), which was an instant success. It is a look at the human race many millennia from now.  The narrator is called simply "the Time Traveller". The book has been described as a ghost story that takes Darwinian theories and spins them way out into the future.

He followed up with The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), about an island where a scientist is engaged in what we might call genetic experimentation with animals. An excerpt from Hitchcock's 1938 movie based on The War of the Worlds (1898) was read out by Orson Welles on Halloween two weeks after the movie came out. While it was famously so realistic that listeners who tuned in late were panicked about the purported invasion from outer space, it wasn't considered a success - which prompted Welles to say goodbye to radio and take up movies, starting with the masterpiece,  Citizen Kane (1941).

Wells had a genuine interest in science, which was married to a socialist vision for the future. In The War in the Air (1908), he predicted World War I and use of airplanes to wage war, which came true. His post-Einstein novel The World Set Free (1914) described bombs with successive explosions tied to their radioactivity, which inspired scientific initiatives to achieve a nuclear chain reaction, leading to the atom bomb.

In his nonfiction three-volume History of the World (1920) he predicted that innovations in horseless railway transportation would permit larger cities. Wells is even said to have anticipated the Internet, long before Al Gore or Oxonian Tim Berners-Lee (more formally, Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, FRS, FREng, FRSA, DFBCS), when in the 1930s he espoused an encyclopedia that anyone could read and at the same time edit.

The success of his predictions in both his nonfiction and fictional books is something he took great pride in pointing out. In the 1941 edition of The War in the Air, he said in the preface:
[M]y epitaph,... when the time comes, will manifestly have to be: "I told you so. You damned fools."
Wells died in London in 1946, less than one month before his 80th birthday.