29 September 2016

H. G. Wells at 150: The Early Fiction of H. G. Wells by Steven McLean

One last H. G. Wells-related text in my massive backlog of unreviewed books for my continuing celebration of Wells's 150th, this one not by the man but about him:

Hardcover, 242 pages
Published 2009
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2013
The Early Fiction of H. G. Wells: Fantasies of Science
by Steven McLean

Steven McLean is part of a group of Victorianist literary scholars of serial publication. When discussing the writings of H. G. Wells, for example, he doesn't consider them as sort of Platonian ideal objects, but as products of the nineteenth-century periodical press. This necessitates not just reading Wells's novels in their serial versions (where relevant), but also reading what other material appeared in those periodicals, and reading what H. G. Wells was publishing elsewhere. There's so much, largely ephemeral, material out there that can illuminate the world in which these novels were being written and read. He charts three stages for Wells's early science fiction: 1895-96: pessimistic Darwinian fables (The Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau), 1897-98: recognizable social settings (The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds), and 1901-05: future directions for humanity (The First Men in the Moon and A Modern Utopia).

What you get from all this is a very solid monograph, one that shows how Wells was interested in what science could say about society: whether society was evolving (and how), how science could be used to shape a better society, what role scientists had to play in society, could eugenics improve society, what did evolution have to do with imperialism, and so on. This is a set of well-articulated perspectives on six H. G. Wells novels, the kind of thing that can be a very helpful grounding when you go off to write about those novels yourself. I should cite it more!

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