Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Strange, even by Wellsian standards"

Anyone who’s read much beyond The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds in the H.G. Wells canon knows that Wells was a utopian socialist, social planner, and advocate of a world state. But he was never delusional enough to believe that human nature would ever change enough on its own to make his ideal society possible. Wells’ visionary futures were generally top-down operations, with intellectual and scientific elites forcing change onto the often uncooperative masses.

Not so, though, with In the Days of the Comet (1906), one of Wells’ earliest and least-known utopian fictions. Here, a Change, as Wells calls the novel’s radical shift in human nature, comes spontaneously and unexpectedly. The first third or so of the book details a world filled with war, poverty, exploitation, and despair. Then Earth brushes through the gaseous tail of a comet. Everyone succumbs to the comet gases, and when they awaken, why, they’re as collectively enlightened as the novel’s arrogant narrator-protagonist! The world has magically transformed into one of socialist bliss. No need for top-down social management here.

In the Days of the Comet isn’t compelling. There’s no tension in the plot, since its “class struggle” is resolved by extraterrestrial magic. But it’s worth reading for fans of protest literature and those curious about the political leanings and century-old predictions of H.G. Wells. When I mentioned to Roderick Long a couple of weeks ago that I was reading In the Days of the Comet, he said, “Now there’s a strange book, even by Wellsian standards.” And as a lover of things really out of the ordinary, that’s probably why I enjoyed the novel as much as I did.


At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comet dust is even stranger than the "Gas of Peace" used in his movie Things to Come.

Which is available at for viewing of downloading.

At 5:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds like Poul Anderson might have gotten the idea for Brain Wave from Wells' novel.


Post a Comment

<< Home