Does h.g wells books stand the test of time?

tegeus-Cromis

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My son (14, huge MCU fan) is currently reading "War of the Worlds" for school and enjoying it. He actually told me, "It doesn't feel like it was written over a hundred years ago."
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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I have to agree. Once we accept the fact that his premises aren't going to be entirely scientifically accurate after so much time, they are still very well written, and create a true sense of wonder. The social commentary you find in, say, The Time Machine or The Island of Doctor Moreau certainly isn't out of date.
 

Alex The G and T

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This question rather lead into how well I stand the test of time.

I read all of his most famous titles about fifty years ago. A few of them I've reread only 15 or 20 years ago.

Musing on a reply to this thread, I began to have a bit of cross-traffic, in my mind, between Verne and Wells; so I looked up a bibliography.

The good news is that I've read a lot more of these than I'd remembered; but, holy smokes! Wells was far more prolific than I ever knew:

 

Cat's Cradle

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I re-read The War of the Worlds last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Victoria nails it - sense of wonder, and very good writing.
 

Dave

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...they make more scientific sense than Star Trek or Star Wars...
...The social commentary you find...
As far as social commentary, that's even more true in his many other works. I think he probably thought of himself as a writer of social and political commentary first, rather than of futuristic science. In reality, only The Sleeper Awakes, Things to Come and The Time Machine actually reference the future itself. The other books deal with mainstream science as it was known at the time. Star Trek's speculative technobabble very quickly gets dated. Star Wars is just a fantasy in set in space.

The one book I haven't read is The Island of Doctor Moreau. So, I'm not sure if that holds up against modern physiology, medicine and genetics, but again, I think the themes of the book are really about vivisection, animal cruelty and pain, moral responsibility, human identity, and human interference with nature - all of which are still relevant and current topics of discussion.
 

picklematrix

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His prose is enjoyable to read, I find. I can dive right into a story by Wells and get drawn in the same as I would by a modern writer.
Not all classic authors are the same. Mary Shelley never quite grabbed me.
 

Extollager

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I've read The War of the Worlds something like 6 times, The Time Machine 3 times, The Island of Dr. Moreau twice, The First Men in the Moon twice, and The Invisible Man once. Various short stories hold up very well, such as "The Crystal Egg."

Wells holds up very well indeed for me. The obsolescence of some of his science is irrelevant to my enjoyment of his work as imaginative fiction, just as I'm not bothered by the greater geographical knowledge that rules out Rider Haggard's lost African kingdoms in She, King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain, and so on. Yes, HGW may have thought, and some of his readers may have thought, that some of the things in his science fiction could correlate to some degree to facts of astronomy, etc. But those stories were always primarily works of the imagination. They were more akin to poetry like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner than to a NASA manual.

I suppose that, with sf that really does depend for a lot of its interest and validity upon trying to work with accurate science and technology, I might shy away if I knew it to have erred seriously. There's some Arthur C. Clarke that I might not ever read... Weir's The Martian might turn out to be a period piece on that account when we know more about Mars, the (im)possibility of survival there as the author imagines, and so on. I understand that his Martian dust storm is pretty unlikely -- Mars just doesn't have enough of an atmosphere to carry the dust that book requires, right? Yet I suspect this novel will retain some interest for its Robinson Crusoe element, which exerts perennial appeal.

Anyway, though, I find Wells's sf more appealing than a lot of sf published more recently and with more sci-tech accuracy. Incidentally, I've read one of his non-sf novels too, Kipps, which held my interest. I'll probably pick another of them sometime, such as The History of Mr. Polly or Tono-Bungay.
 

Dave

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I should actually read The Island of Doctor Moreau. The others I read as a young teenager, so probably worth reading again, but so many books and so little time!
 

-K2-

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I have to agree. Once we accept the fact that his premises aren't going to be entirely scientifically accurate after so much time, they are still very well written, and create a true sense of wonder. The social commentary you find in, say, The Time Machine or The Island of Doctor Moreau certainly isn't out of date.
I mentioned the following in a similar thread you participated in as well;

H.G. Wells often has folks debating for fun if he actually made a 'time machine.' Some of his work (written in the 1890's) speaks of future events, wars, weapons and so on that hint at things quite similar. What someone pointed out to me I always found fascinating was in 'War of the Worlds ~ 1897,' Wells describes one of the Martian's primary weapons like this:

"...in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light... it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam."

The atmosphere of Mars is 95.3% carbon-dioxide.

What he is describing is a CO2 laser. Coincidence? :unsure:

Past that, I'm both constantly amazed and not. The generation before mine dreamed of things we have today (PC's, internet, VCR's, CD's, cell phones, GPS, etc.). However, I also realize from those fantasies of 'what if' by the older generation, subsequent generations take those ideas and say 'why not?' Then make it happen... That's really the amazing part. What if ideas everyone has. It's staggering what people accomplish to make dreams realities. That's constantly amazing to me. Not, in that I expect it.

K2


 

Venusian Broon

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I mentioned the following in a similar thread you participated in as well;

H.G. Wells often has folks debating for fun if he actually made a 'time machine.' Some of his work (written in the 1890's) speaks of future events, wars, weapons and so on that hint at things quite similar. What someone pointed out to me I always found fascinating was in 'War of the Worlds ~ 1897,' Wells describes one of the Martian's primary weapons like this:

"...in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a lighthouse projects a beam of light... it is certain that a beam of heat is the essence of the matter. Heat, and invisible, instead of visible, light. Whatever is combustible flashes into flame at its touch, lead runs like water, it softens iron, cracks and melts glass, and when it falls upon water, incontinently that explodes into steam."

The atmosphere of Mars is 95.3% carbon-dioxide.

What he is describing is a CO2 laser. Coincidence? :unsure:

Past that, I'm both constantly amazed and not. The generation before mine dreamed of things we have today (PC's, internet, VCR's, CD's, cell phones, GPS, etc.). However, I also realize from those fantasies of 'what if' by the older generation, subsequent generations take those ideas and say 'why not?' Then make it happen... That's really the amazing part. What if ideas everyone has. It's staggering what people accomplish to make dreams realities. That's constantly amazing to me. Not, in that I expect it.

K2
mmmm, CO2 lasers...probably not :). Lasers need two mirrors. And he doesn't really get to the real essence of Laser - stimulated emission - in his description. Also I'm pretty sure they would not have known about the atmosphere of Mars at the time.

My first guess is that Wells is probably leaning on the recent codification and simplification of Maxwell's Laws in 1887 and all the advances that were being made in synthesising all the various strange phenomena into this 'grand theory', and technology. The idea of infrared=heat, and that it behaved like light had been known for a few decades before this point, albeit they were still working on details around this time, so this could well have been cutting-edge science at the time.

I think there can be a danger of putting too much hindsight into utterances from the past :)

For all we know he may well have known about Archimede's 2000 year old 'death ray' and just replaced the sun with some high tech mcguffin to power it! (Added to the knowledge of heat and infrared he probably knew, was absolutely fair enough for SF!!)

EDIT: From a cursory look at other sources, the 'Archimedes' source for the heat ray actually appears to be the one in Well's mind when he wrote it
 
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-K2-

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mmmm, CO2 lasers...probably not :). Lasers need two mirrors. And he doesn't really get to the real essence of Laser - stimulated emission - in his description. Also I'm pretty sure they would not have known about the atmosphere of Mars at the time... truncated by K2
No doubt you would know better... and the historical comparisons will have me learning a lot today as I look them up.
What perked my ears (regarding laser) is this: "in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity. This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose, by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition"

JUST for discussion: Chamber to me means a closed space, which a CO2 laser typically is a glass tube with a 100%===50/50% (or whatever the number is) mirrors respectively of the ends (unlike a NdYAG and its oval chamber and rod). The parabolic mirror he mentions simply an aiming device used with a fixed laser. The Mars/CO2 deal, is convenient on top of that.

That said, I'll search on that Archimedes/Wells source. The only reason I'm curious, is since investigating much more recent and well documented things (like air combat of New Guinea), I long ago discovered that many researchers copy and add their twist on previous researcher's work. Meaning, if Bob-2012 says Wells used, he may have picked that up from Tom-1963 says Wells used, who got that from Frank 1910 says Wells used. See where I'm going with this? If 1910 Frank only knew of Archimedes, his 'speculation' about what Wells used may be no more than my/our own.

Now I'm really curious if HG Wells ever said 'he' used... what?

K2
 

-K2-

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@Venusian Broon ; there is a site-- which cites-- a January 26, 1898 interview with Wells, where 'Wells, supposedly states "Archimedes".' Unfortunately, I can't access it, and thus far, can't find a transcript or image as of yet. If it interests you enough, here is where the old newspage resides. I've narrowed the search so it should be one of these eight pages (Not sure if The Daily News = The Daily Telegraph, so maybe I'm off): Results for 'wells 26 january 1898' | Between 26th Jan 1898 and 26th Jan 1898 | Daily Telegraph & Courier (London) | Publication | British Newspaper Archive

K2
 
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