H.G. Wells was a man of vision and imagination. He’s one of the fathers of science fiction, having written over fifty novels during his prolific career and influenced the likes of Winston Churchill in the process.
I read The Time Machine in my youth, back when I had no notion of literature, nature, or even life. I was awestruck to find such an imaginative and bizarre world described with such eloquence, and suddenly, doors were blown open. I could now reach corners of my imagination I never knew were there, as new possibilities vigorously sprung out of seemingly nowhere. In a sense, it was an awakening.
When I found out Herbert George Wells, known simply as H.G. Wells, was basically the reason why time travel became so popular in the human imagination, I grew to admire him even more. His vision, the kind that comes once in a generation, opened our eyes to new domains of fiction and science. It’s no wonder he, together with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, is considered one of the fathers of science fiction as we know it.
Wells was, in fact, prolific in many genres. He wrote dozens of novels, short stories, essays, biographical and autobiographical works, and satire, and was an active political and social commentator, often concerned about the ethics of his cultural context. But sure, he’s probably best remembered for his early science fiction stories, among them: The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898), The War in the Air (1907), and the aforementioned The Time Machine (1895).
Love at first sight
There’s an endearing anecdote about how Wells came to love literature in the first place. When he was about 8 years old, in his native England, he had an accident in which he broke his legs. Forced to remain in bed for several days, he had little in the way of entertainment. So, his father, a humble shopkeeper and cricketer, brought him books from the local library to pass the time. It didn’t take long before Wells became enamored with the fictional worlds and characters that the books brought to life, and he was immediately drawn to writing.
Wells moved from apprenticeship to apprenticeship before starting an early formal education in biology, eventually earning, in 1890, a Bachelor of Science degree in zoology from the University of London. Interestingly enough, his first published work was a biology textbook—a far cry from his calling in fiction.
But money is often a rare acquaintance. A pernicious lack of income eventually forced Wells to write the occasional humorous article for different magazines, which became surprisingly successful. He had a knack for writing, after all. This encouraged him to venture into deeper literary waters, as he moved beyond short works and towards the length of proper novels. So, he published The Time Machine soon after. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Wells’ literary and cultural influence
Wells added a sense of realism to the world of “impossible literature” and science fiction, making concepts such as time travel and invisibility seem plausible to the reader—something no one had done so remarkably well before him. He basically invented the concept of a time-traveling vehicle that allows its operator to travel back and forth in history at will. For that, he coined the term “Time Machine,” and it stuck. Now, pretty much every single person on the planet uses that term to refer to that kind of vehicle.
Wells advocated what is now known as “Wells’ Law” for literature works, which states that any science fiction story should have at most a single extraordinary assumption. He was among the first to realize that the belief in magic had dwindled in the west, so it was no longer a plausible element to justify the impossible in fiction. So, he turned to scientific ideas to fulfill that role. “Any sufficiently advanced technology,” as Arthur C. Clarke would later say, "is indistinguishable from magic,” after all.
Wells was truly an unparalleled visionary. Throughout his works and more private commentaries, he envisioned the advent of space travel, widespread aircrafts, tanks, nuclear weapons, satellite T.V., and something not far from the internet. His social and political views, centered around utopias of economic equality and pacifism, were also influential. Winston Churchill himself expressed he owed a great debt to the author, and many generations of great minds in and outside literature have been greatly inspired by Wells’ works.
He was, after all, a leading figure for the ages.
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