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The genius of H G Wells, imaginative father of science fiction

Posted in Historical articles, History, Literature, Science, Space on Monday, 11 June 2012

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This edited article about H G Wells originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 724 published on 29 November 1975.

War of the Worlds, picture, image, illustration

A scene from War of the Worlds by H G Wells by Barrie Linklater

Chance, as everyone knows, more often than not, takes a hand in shaping our destinies. Certainly this applied to the young boy who lay hidden one Sunday morning beneath some bushes facing a small country church. The doors swung open, and the congregation straggled out.

The boy leapt up and rushed towards a spry figure in Sunday silk – his mother. He flung his arms around her, shouting: “I won’t go back, I won’t go back!”

The year was 1883, and the boy was Herbert George Wells, who later became a world-famous author, scientist, and prophet. Then he was simply a runaway draper’s apprentice who had walked the seventeen miles to his home.

If Mrs. Wells had been in a bad mood and as strict as most Victorian parents, and had sent her runaway son forthwith back to the draper’s shop, the world might never have learned of H. G. Wells. And the world would have been that much poorer.

For H. G. Wells, one of the inventors of science fiction, was a man ahead of his time. His ideas created a revolution in world thinking.

As a small boy, Bertie Wells lived in Bromley, Kent. At fourteen he was apprenticed to a firm of drapers.

His working day began at 7.30 a.m. and ended at 8 p.m. He shared an attic bedroom with seven other apprentices, and took his meals in a gloomy underground room. For a boy like Wells with a burning ambition, much was lacking.

Running away was the first step. At seventeen he became a student teacher with a salary of £20 a year. The headmaster soon realized that he had a remarkable assistant. The young man was entered for a series of examinations.

By hard cramming, Wells passed them all. He gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Science in London, where the great biologist, T. H. Huxley, was one of his teachers. His clothes were threadbare and he lived mainly on dry bread. But for many months science gave him all the nourishment he needed.

For the first time he had access to a great library. He packed his brain with fact and fantasy. He enrolled at the University of London, graduating when he was twenty-two.

At first he tried to teach, but a football accident affected his health. He became a journalist and, between painful illnesses, tried to write a book. At one time, a halfpenny was all the money he owned. He was unable to contact his family because he could not afford the postage.

In 1895 his first novel, The Time Machine, was published. It was the first of many successes.

All the scientific fact Wells had absorbed as a student was now transformed into best-selling fiction. But he was also a prophet.

In 1901 he foresaw the possibilities of space travel in The First Men On The Moon. In 1914 he wrote The World Set Free, which envisaged not only the atomic bomb, but also a world parliament, not unlike U.N. by 1950.

In a series of magnificent books – such as The Outline of History and The Science of Life – he tried to pass on to his readers an awareness of themselves and their world, which he hoped would prevent them from destroying it.

He died in 1946, and now, as the rockets continue to soar into outer space, beyond the moon even, there seems little doubt that Herbert George Wells was a genius who knew better than most of us the shape of things to come.

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