As many regular readers will know I've been given the opportunity to preview and review the fascinating Ridley Scott's Prophets of Science Fiction series from the Discovery Science Channel. What many may not know is how huge a fan I am of Herbert George - or HG, as he is more commonly known - Wells. The literary genius has had a massive impact on my ideas and opinions as science fiction fan and has influenced my writing and my way of thinking for years.
So when I discovered that episode 3 was an exploration into HG Wells works, you can only imagine my excitement!
"He believed in the greatness of science but in the weakness of man." - Ridley Scott
HG Wells was a remarkable man. His influence effecting genre work - it's ideals and direction - is still visible in the present works of fiction we read today. He redirected the path science fiction could have taken and made it relevant and important. One is only to begin thumbing through the first pages of one of his books and cannot help become captivated by his suggestions and notions of the path science could take.
The startling truth though is how much his imagination was to become reality.
You may think me bias but this was a truly wonderful episode into the depths of a literary genius. Not only has Wells works been a prophetic insight into the future of mankind this century but has the potential to be forewarning the the scientific venture we undertake as a species in the centuries to come.
HG Wells novels were influenced by the discoveries of the times he lived in. Wells was a scholar of science and he regularly read scientific papers. His ideas all were informed and had basis in the facts and analysis in the Victorian era.
He unsuccessfully submitted an essay to a popular magazine detailing his thoughts on the "fourth dimension". It was concerned with plotting a destination using not only the parameters of space - of which you need three dimensions - but also of time. The aforementioned fourth dimension. It was difficult to editors at the time to understand but later went on to become his fictional masterpiece, The Time Machine. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku later acknowledges amazing this theory is - it's currently a much discussed investigation into the use of wormholes to plot a course through spacetime! Wells had preempted Einsteins Theory of Relativity by ten years!
As sociological studies goes, Wells fixation on what would happen if a good man were left to go bad is explored in The Invisible Man, one of his darkest tales. Based on an idea taken from the natural world - Wells looked at the transparency of Jellyfish and minute creatures impossible to see with the naked eye - Wells chronicles the descent into madness of a man who can become invisible. Not only a riveting fictional piece, the writer has caught on to experiments underway to create a cloth a that refracts light rendering the object underneath the material inconspicuous.
In The Island of Doctor Moreau, he detailed the subject of vivisection - the dissection of animals whilst they're still alive. In the book, Doctor Moreau splice his animals together to make them more human, often adding parts of other beasts to create whole new species. This could be perceived as an early idea of genetic engineering but the realization of the story is much more startling. Prof. Esmail Zanjani, at the University of Nevada, has been working on injecting stem cells in the unborn fetus' of sheep. When these lambs are born their DNA is part-human. The aim of the experiment is to eventually create organs and tissues to be used for transplants and other adaptations in the field of medical science.
As is the best science fiction, his were mostly cautionary tales. Looking back at The War of the Worlds we discover that not only has Wells accurately described advancements in laser technology that are just being realized but he imagined the scope of the first major global conflict. Similarly, he outlined the design for a tank in The Land Ironclads and aerial combat in The War in the Air.
However, one of Wells other prophecies was far more shocking.
When writing The World Set Free, Wells had become fascinated with the element Radium and it's destructive properties. In this book, he accurately portrayed the devastating effects of the radioactive material and even coined the term "atomic bomb." In an even more dramatic and eerie turn of events, physicist Leo Szilard, a fan of Wells work, discovered for himself the shocking realization of atomic power and, together with his colleague and friend Albert Einstein, wrote a letter to the President detailing his findings. This letter resulted in the founding of the Manhattan Project and the construction of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
This episode was, so far, the best of the series to date. Not only are the revelations of HG Wells prophetic visions of science fiction becoming science fact investigated so well, it's also quite amazing how acutely he predicted events that would take take place and the repercussions they would give rise to.
It also featured an array of interesting discussions from Paul Verhoeven, Michio Kaku and even the authors great grandson, and director of The Time Machine, Simon Wells. The sections that are shown representing HG Wells as he conducts the imaginative process also feature some brilliant effects; one in particular has Wells envision a Martian Tripod lift above the treeline and engulf two passersby with a burst of fire from its heat ray.
HG Wells may have been best known for his vision of alien conquest but look back at some of the more devastating lessons we learnt from history - maybe his Time Machine was much more a reality than anything we ever thought possible...
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