The Food of the Gods

The H. G. Wells series continues.

Raw Feed (1996): The Food of the Gods, H. G. Wells, 1904.H G Wells

The recent arrest of the Unabomber was on my mind as I read this novel. According to his published manifesto, the Unabomber hated technologists and scientists wringing changes on the world – including those supposedly undesired by others.

Wells, in this book, exhibits surprising (given his humble origins) contempt for the feelings of the common man, surprising but not unexpected (given his socialist leanings and his enthusiasm for central planning via a cult of professionals as exhibited in later novels).

He plays into the Unabomber criticism of uncaring, socially disruptive scientists. [As blogger due diligence, I just got around to reading “Industrial Society and Its Future”, the actual name of the manifesto. The relevant quote is in paragraph 89:

The same is true of scientists generally. With possible rare exceptions, their motive is neither curiosity nor a desire to benefit humanity but the need to go through the power process: to have a goal (a scientific problem to solve), to make an effort (research) and to attain the goal (solution of the problem.) Science is a surrogate activity because scientists work mainly for the fulfillment they get out of the work itself.

As an aside, the manifesto is not what I expected — another reminder on the value of going to primary sources instead of taking people’s word on what somebody said. I’m not on with the nature worship thing in the manifesto. Or bringing industrial civilization down. Or mailing bombs. But Kaczynski does make some cogent observations on technology’s primacy in shaping society and reducing freedom — assuming his definition of “freedom” is yours.]

I don’t think this book works on the two levels intended by Wells: satire (if you accept the notion that this is Wells’ satire on the public attitude towards change – I only think that’s partially correct) and another exploration of human biological/social evolution.

The problem lies in the extreme shifts in tone.

Wells spends a good portion of the novel showing the cavalier, harmful, slipshod manner Bensington and Redwood handle of the Food. Ultimately, they wreck great changes on the ecosystem with giant weeds, ants, rats, wasps, etc. Dr. Winkles’ gives the Food to children unilaterally with no one’s consent. His motives are largely ambitious ones. We are meant to see the novel’s end – where the public has the Food forced on them — as a solution to the conflict between Giants and regular humans.

In effect, man will have this changed forced on them because it is for the race’s good; giganticness is the next step of evolution. (Wells doesn’t do a good job convincing me that a handful of humans a mere six to eight times larger than normal could be so powerful.)

I cameaway with a Unabomber-like feeling about oblivious scientists. Wells depiction of scientists and the public perception of change may have been accurate — for the time. I think it may be changing with more scientists and laymen trying to foresee the consequences of technology, and more scientists becoming savvy of public relations.

Bensington is a common man (except for his scientific awareness and social awkwardness) with little feel for the significance of his work. Redwood is selected as the spokesmen for anything pertaining to “Boomfood”. The public at first sees the Food as little more than one more novelty, a subject of jokes, then a threat serious enough to organize politically against. The character of Caterham seems a realistic portrayal of an opportunistic politician oblivious to and ignorant of physical and economic laws. All the while some of the public, epitomized by the vicar who insists, in between bursts of classic Latin, that there is “something that defies all these forces of the New”, continues to insist little has changed while all around the ecosystem has changed.


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