HISTORY OF SF - H G WELLS
H G WELLS I
Returning to our review of the founders of science fiction, we at last come to the man referred to by Brian W Aldiss as “The Shakespeare of Science Fiction”—namely the one and only Herbert George Wells.
Wells was born in 1806 in Bromley, Kent. His father, Joseph Wells, kept a small hardware shop and was a keen professional cricketer. However, neither cricket nor the shop brought much in the way of income and the family lived in middle-class poverty.
Wells spent his younger days in avid reading at the nearby Literary Institute and began his education at Morley’s Academy. In 1880 the family’s fortune declined severely and Wells was apprenticed to a firm of drapers in Windsor. However, his employers were not impressed with the young Wells and he was dismissed. He then tried being a pupil teacher at a school in Somerset and after that did not work out, he was a chemist’s assistant for a month. Forced to return to being a draper’s assistant, a job he hated, he stuck it out for two years and then quit.
He next became an assistant master at Midhurst Grammar School and in 1884 gained a scholarship at the Normal School of Science (Now part of Imperial College). For three years he studied physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy and biology. His tutor in in biology was the renowned Professor Thomas H. Huxley , who was a fierce champion for Darwin’s theories. After a period of teaching in north Wales, he returned to London and gained a B. Sc. in Biology with First Class Honours in 1890.
In 1893 she suffered a haemorrhage of the lungs and was forced to take a period of recuperation. It was in this period that he began his literary career. At first, he wrote academic papers and his “A Textbook of Biology” was published in 1893.
However, in 1895 he published a book of short stories with fantastic themes – “The Stolen Bacillus And Other Incidents.” In the lead story, an anarchist steals a test-tube of what he believes to be a particularly virulent strain of cholera and rushes into the streets of London, trying to infect as many people as he can. Although it turns out that the strain was in fact not the one the anarchist believed it to be, the threat of bacteriological warfare is made very clear for perhaps the first time in literature.
Before we move onto the great novels, we will examine the themes of some of his short stories.
“The Sea Raiders” – A new species of octopus develops a taste for English holidaymakers.
“In The Abyss” – A submarine explorer discovers a race of sentient sea dwellers that use human skeletons as their building material and view shipwrecks as gifts from the gods.
“The Flowering of the Strange Orchid” – A horticulturist discovers too late that his new specimen thrives on animal blood.
“The Magic Shop” – A father and son visit a strange shop and discover they cannot find the way out.
“The Moth” – A scientist discovers a new breed of moth-but the moth has also discovered him.
“The Cone” – not really SF, but a truly shocking tale of the revenge visited on a love rival by a jealous husband.
“The Stolen Body” – A man learns how to have an out-of-the body experience. But unfortunately his now empty form is claimed by a demon leaving the adventurer unable to return.
“The Inexperienced Ghost” – a man learns the trick of dematerialisation from the eponymous ghost – but soon wishes he hasn’t.
More from Wells’ incredible imagination in the next post.