News from Nowhere

I mentioned this novel in my review of H. G. Wells’ A Modern Utopia.

Raw Feed (1996): News from Nowhere; Or, an Epoch of Rest: Being Some Chapters from a Utopian Romance, William Morris, 1891.News from Nowhere

This book may very well have been on the Unabomber’s bookshelf. [Probably not given that it’s not on the list of books he wanted back from the FBI.]  This communistic, arts and crafts tyranny would appeal to the anti-technological Unabomber with his hand-crafted bombs. Communism is the explicitly stated philosophy at work here, and Morris was famous for his works on artistic aesthetics.

Morris is resolutely anti-technological and explicitly and frequently evokes his beloved 14th century Europe as a model for living. He even dismisses their more reprehensible laws as at least being sincere unlike Victorian laws which, according to him, are repressive and hypocritically justified. To be fair to Morris, two of 14th Century Europe’s problems – plague and famine – were not yet really being alleviated by contemporary science – not that Morris really mentions them as problems of 14th century life.

This is not really, despite being frequently mentioned in sf histories, a sf novel. Essentially, it’s a dream vision (more echoes of Morris’ medievalism) of Morris’ utopia. As with all utopias, it has to be criticized on two levels: the literary merits and the merits of the ideas. Continue reading

Men Like Gods

The H. G. Wells series continues with a work a lot more palatable than In the Days of the Comet.

Raw Feed (1996): Men Like Gods, H. G. Wells, 1923.Men Like Gods

Another utopian work by Wells though here the frame is more imaginative than Wells’ In the Days of the Comet or A Modern Utopia.

Here Wells uses (in an early example of such but not the first I believe) the device of a parallel universe. [The “Wells” entry in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia says the novel “transfers a group of Earthlings via something like Matter Transmission to the planet Utopia”.] His wittily described protagonist Mr. Barnstaple is a put upon socialist who blunders, while on vacation, into the utopia of a parallel dimension. Utopia is on another Earth that has evolved over 3,000 years from a society like ours.

Barnstaple is accompanied by several annoying characters including a politician named Catskill who argues that man is better off with nature’s and society’s ills since he appreciates it more during the brief, pain-free moments (the-banging-your-head-against-the-wall-because-it-feels-so-good-when-you-stop school of philosophy). Father Amerton seems to be a creation of Freudian psychology (specifically the notion of a reaction formation) in that the utopians interpret his objections to their sexual promiscuity and lack of marriage as signs of a perverted mind. Continue reading

The World Set Free

 

The H. G. Wells series continues while I’m off reading new stuff for review.

Raw Feed (1996): The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind, H. G. Wells, 1914.World Set Free

“Introduction”, Brian Aldiss — Introduction that emphasizes that Wells’ claim to being a prophet (a reputation he garnered in his day) rests on his prediction of atomic warfare in this novel and tanks in “The Land Ironclads”. The technological inspiration came from the work of Frederick Soddy who won a 1921 Nobel Prize for radioactive chemistry. Soddy wrote a popular account of his work in 1909. Aldiss points out the technical flaws of story construction and character in the novel.

This novel gets much credit for being the first sf story to depict atomic warfare. Wells certainly shows warfare of incredible destructiveness and long lingering effects, but those effects are not from radioactivity but from continuous explosions, in effect perpetual volcanoes where the bombs land. I’m not sure if this accurately reflects the scientific opinion of the day. Continue reading

A Modern Utopia

Well, the H. G. Wells series continues.

We’re down to the second tier stuff novel-wise, stuff you probably haven’t heard of and usually with good reason.

Raw Feed (1996): A Modern Utopia, H. G. Wells, 1905.Modern Utopia

“Introduction”, Mark R. Hillegas — Hillegas, author of a critical study on Wells and the “anti-utopians”, relates the influence of A Modern Utopia on social, political, and literary thought. (George Orwell is quoted talking about Wells’ influence on him.) Hillegas also briefly talks about some of the most notable features of Wells’ work. Written in 1967, this introduction is confident that the world is moving closer to Wells’ vision of a socialist utopia.

A Modern Utopia  — This is the most pleasant to read of any utopia I’ve seen and also the most convincing and tempting utopia to actually live in. Still, its ideas are doomed to failure. Continue reading

Oh, H. G …

No, if human beings were cleverer. It would be a good thing to invent a Five-Year Plan for the reconstruction of the human brain, which obviously lacks many things needed for a perfect social order.[Laughter]

 

That would be one H. G. Wells chatting with one Joe the Georgian (to reference an Al Stewart song) in 1934. You can see the whole interview here.

Nothing really shocking here.  Wells was a Fabian socialism so you’d expect him to argue with the Man of Steel about the merits of violent revolution. And Wells the political thinker was not unknown to me. I’ve talked a bit about the politics of Wells in his fiction, particularly in his When the Sleeper Awakes and, much more in his A Modern Utopia. The latter is, as far as utopias go, better than most in holding your interest. However, William Morris, definitely not a Fabian socialist, wrote a more interesting utopia with News from Nowhere.  He was with Uncle Joe on the need for violent revolution.

I think of Wells’ as being a sort of Dr. Moreau. He couldn’t ultimately tame the beasts of his island through laws and surgery. Wells never figured out how to reconstruct human brains to create his utopias either.

Stalin and Wells make reference to the organizing talents of Henry Ford. The matter of Soviet imitation of centralized capitalist systems is briefly covered in Michael Flynn’s Babbage Engine secret history, In the Country of the Blind.

We Soviet people have not a little experience of the technical intelligentsia. After the October Revolution, a certain section of the technical intelligentsia refused to take part in the work of constructing the new society; they opposed this work of construction and sabotaged it.

That’s the most jolting bit in the interview. As Greta Garbo said in Ninotchka, “Fewer but better Russians.”

Of course, the bright world glimpsed in 1934 never really panned out.  There or anytime since then.