The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg & Beyond

I saw this book acknowledged in Stephen Baxter’s The Massacre of Mankind, so, in a moment of rare impulse book buying and reading, I bought it and read it immediately.

Review: The War of the Worlds: From H. G. Wells to Orson Welles, Jeff Wayne, Steven Spielberg & Beyond, Peter J. Beck, 2016.The War of the Worlds

In 1895, H. G. Wells moved to Woking, Surrey. He was almost thirty, a journalist and writer on the make. Plagued by a kidney and liver injured playing football and with lungs that occasionally bled from the foul air of London, he wasn’t sure how much time he had left.

And he had bills to pay and a new wife, his second, to support.

His reputation wasn’t secure. The Time Machine had been critically acclaimed, but The Island of Dr. Moreau was not popular with readers or critics.

When he left Woking after finishing the first version of The War of the Worlds, his reputation was secured, and he became a writer with an international following. Money followed which was a good thing because he would need it for all his many mistresses and illegitimate children. (Wells’ stated cure for writer’s block was sex twice a day and that often was not with his wife.)

What Beck and publisher Bloomsbury Academic present is a literary biography of Wells’ novel and all its multimedia adaptations that followed Continue reading

“The Myth of Man-Made Catastrophe”

The review series on Brian Stableford’s Opening Minds continues.

Review: “The Myth of Man-Made Catastrophe”, Brian Stableford, 1980.Opening Minds

In this long essay, Stableford presents a taxonomy of man-made catastrophes presented by science fiction.

The sense that humans could compete with nature in creating catastrophes started in the latter part of the 19th century.

There were works hostile to the growing effects of technology like Samuel Butler’s Erewhon and William Morris’ News from Nowhere, but they didn’t present notions of true catastrophe at the hands of man’s machinery. Stableford claiming that Richard Jefferies After London (1872) left the reasons for a pastoral, medieval like England being created as “deliberately unspecified” doesn’t quite jibe with my memory of that novel.

While he doesn’t nominate it as the first work of man-made catastrophe, he notes that Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column had a world wrecked by the capitalist system. (And, I suppose, I should clarify that catastrophe does not equal a literal doomsday or human extinction.) Continue reading

Scientific Romance

Being a fan of Stableford’s work, I immediately requested a review copy when I saw it on Netgallery.

Review: Scientific Romance: An International Anthology of Pioneering Science Fiction, ed. Brian Stableford, 1917.Scientific Romance

Before America colonized science fiction with its conquistador John Carter in 1912 and made it into a genre concerned with space and adventure, it was something different. It was, argues Stableford, a stream of literature interested in “the adoption of the scientific outlook and the attempt to employ the scientific imagination as a springboard for speculative fiction”.

Just as the Vikings colonized the New World before Columbus’s voyage, Francis Bacon and Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac discovered new frontiers for literature when they wrote scientific romances. And, just as the Viking colonization inspired no immediate imitators, no writers imitated Bacon and de Bergerac for a while. Bacon’s New Atlantis was unfinished and published posthumously in 1627. De Bergerac’s L’Autre Monde ou les Etats et Empires de la lune [The Other World] wasn’t published until the 1920s.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that authors in France, America, and England began producing work that was noticeably something different and that stuck in the public mind. These were stories about the drama to be made out of new scientific discoveries, new technologies, and the peculiar psychologies of inventors and scientists. Continue reading

The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5

I strongly recommend James Gunn’s six volume The Road to Science Fiction anthology series as a good look at the history of Anglophone science fiction. In the sixth volume, foreign language science fiction is covered.

However, I only reviewed this volume.

A retro review from September 2, 2003.

Review: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5: The British Way, ed. James Gunn, 1998.Road to Science Fiction

Several novels are excerpted here. And one prominent one isn’t: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which Gunn argues is a transition from the gothic but not yet fully in the camp of self-aware science fiction. Lt. Col. Sir George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking is the first of those future war novels written by politicians and military men determined to influence public policy. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, still in print, is a charming tale of life and culture in a two-dimensional world. That incomparable giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, is represented by a selection from Star Maker, narrated by a “cosmical mind” who views the life of the universe. (Though oddly, in this volume, Gunn barely mentions his importance to the genre. For that, you must consult volume two.) The title for the section on Richard Jeffries After London; Or, Wild England is “The Craving for Catastrophe”. It is a pastoral tale of a simpler life after an unexplained disaster has befallen the country.

That craving shows up in several more tales. Killer smog hits the city in Robert Barr’s 1892 story “The Doom of London.” “The Great Fog” of H. F. Heard wipes out worldwide civilization. Life gets extinguished on an alien planet in Arthur C. Clarke’s much anthologized “The Star”. The Nature of the Catastrophe” in Michael Moorcock’s story of that name is never really explained. An amalgam of newspaper excerpts and fiction, this story unfortunately shares the oblique prose and loose setting of his Jerry Cornelius novels. Not readable in its own right, it still gives you some idea of Moorcock’s influence on the New Wave. Tanith Lee’s “Written in Water” is a last woman on Earth tale. The world that may be destroyed by an artist in J. D. Beresford “A Negligible Experiment” is our own. The disaster of John Wyndham’s “The Emptiness of Space” is a personal one. Its hero has survived a spell in cryonic suspension and fears his soul has left his body.

As you would expect, the anthology is full of several famous names. Continue reading

Convergent Evolution in Post-Holocaust SF and After London

Science fiction scholar John J. Pierce is still around and still producing work on his blog The Seventy Year Itch.

His post “Science Fiction Invention and Reinvention” looks at convergent literary evolution in the post-holocaust story. It’s long but well worth a look.

He has extensive excerpts from various works including Richard Jefferies After London, so, for the occasion, I’ll post my review, from August 29, 2011. Pierce’s posting, though, provides a lot better sense of the work and its influence.

Review: After London; or, Wild England, Richard Jefferies, 1885.

After LondonAfter watching the original version of the BBC’s Survivors series, which aired from 1975 through 1977, I decided to read this, one of the first post-apocalypse novels.

To be sure there were earlier stories that killed off most or all of humanity including Mary Shelley’s “The Last Man” (1826) and Edgar Poe’s “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (1839), but Jefferies may have been the first to create and describe new social orders in the world after the apocalypse. Here, England befalls some unknown disaster which empties London and creates a vast lake in the center of the country.

The first five chapters of the book are Jefferies’ future historian narrating how the ecosystem of England has changed, and there is no mention of the hero of the rest of the novel: Sir Felix Aquila. And they stand at the beginning of a line of speculation about the decay of the world after humanity that continues through the cable tv show Life After People.

As for Felix, he’s the usual impoverished aristocrat who wants to impress the daughter of richer aristocrats, and he leaves home seeking fame and fortune. His story ends rather abruptly and, frankly, it’s not that interesting. You can get a nice sense of the book’s strengths by reading the first five chapters and chapters 23 and 24.

The ecologically centered post-apocalypse tale wasn’t to achieve these heights again until George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides.

Reading Bitter Bierce: The Science Fiction Stories, Part 2

“For the Ahkoond”

If you’re one of those sticklers who think satire must have some kind of call or plan for reform, you might not find this Ambrose Bierce story fitting the bill. However, Bierce calls it a satire in a footnote he inserted when he included it in his Collected Works in 1909.Bierce LOA

On the surface, given the number of gadgets he mentions and invents, you might think this is his most science fictional work and shows something of his friend Robert Duncan Milne’s influence.

You would be wrong, though. Continue reading