Monday, September 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, H.G. Wells

I've had a little romance with science fiction ever since I was young. I'm not a scientist by any means, but I love the alternate possiblities, the fantastic places, even the social commentary it gives.

While it's drastically different from popular science fiction today, the works of H.G. Wells kickstarted the genre and gave it many of it's themes, from Martians attacking Earth and time travels to invisible men.

Wells is often named, with Jules Verne, as a "father of science fiction." His books are rooted in the scientific belief of the time, but go on to tell readers the possibilities of what science can do: a theme which runs true in much of science fiction today.

I've read a few of his books, and while they definitely have that "old" and "Victorian" feel, perhaps even "dusty" or "dry," the stories he writes are still gripping and enjoyable. Maybe that's why they've been re-made and re-hashed in radio, films, plays, and every other medium since he wrote them around the turn of the century.

I love how a good idea, or a gripping story, can be recycled so often. Take War of the Worlds, for instance. First published in 1898, it tells the story of Martians attacking Earth. Sound familiar? Not only the basic theme, but the story itself has been re-told, most recently by a terrible movie with Tom Cruise in it. Read the book, trust me. In 1938 Orson Welles put on a radio version of the story (Wells-Welles. Creepy.), in the form of real-time news broadcasts, which freaked out most of it's audience, many of whom believed Martians were actually attacking. This cracks me up, but it really pissed off a lot of people at the time. Oops.

Other favorites of mine are The Invisible Man, and The Time Traveler, where he popularized the idea of time travel, and even coined the phrase "time machine." You may have seen cheap entertaining remakes, but again, read the real things! The details he puts in when he describes the time machine, or what he saw there, is amazing.

Wells would be 143 today. He would have lived to see many of his predictions about the future come true, such as trains and cars contributing to a more disparate society, greater sexual freedom, and the existence of a European Union. Of course, he also thought submarines were impossible. But still. He was a pretty smart guy. Give him some credit and read his books.

But only if you like science fiction.

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