Herbert George H G Wells and Invaders from Mars

Another very influential science-fiction writer of the late 19th and early 20th century was Herbert George (H. G.) Wells. He inspired many future astronautical pioneers with his exciting fictional works that popularized the idea of space travel and life on other worlds. For example, in 1897, he wrote The War of the Worlds—the classic tale about extraterrestrial invaders from Mars.

Wells was born on September 21, 1866, in Bromley, Kent, England. In 1874, a childhood accident forced him to recuperate with a broken leg. The prolonged convalescence encouraged him to become an ardent reader, and this period of intensive self-learning served him well. He went on to become an accomplished author of both science fiction and more traditional novels.

He settled in London in 1891 and began to write extensively on educational matters. His career as a science-fiction writer started in 1895 with publication of the incredibly popular book The Time Machine. At the turn of the century, he focused his attention on space travel and the consequences of alien contact. Between 1897 and 1898, The War of the Worlds appeared as a magazine serial and then as a book. Wells followed this very popular space-invasion story with The First Men in the Moon, which appeared in 1901. Like Jules Verne, Wells did not link the rocket to space travel, but his stories did excite the imagination. The War of the Worlds was the classic tale of an invasion of Earth by creatures from space. In his original story, hostile Martians land in 19th-century England and prove to be unstoppable, conquering villains until tiny terrestrial microorganisms destroy them.

In writing this story, Wells was probably influenced by the then popular (but incorrect) assumption that allegedly observed Martian "canals" were artifacts of a dying civilization on the Red Planet. This was a very fashionable hypothesis in late 19th-century astronomy. As previously mentioned, the Martian canal craze had started quite innocently in 1877 when the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli reported linear features that he observed on the surface of Mars as canali—the Italian word for channels. Schiaparelli's accurate astronomical observations became misinterpreted when translated as canals in English. Consequently, other notable astronomers such as the American Percival Lowell began to search enthusiastically for and soon "discover" other surface features on the Red Planet that resembled signs of an intelligent Martian civilization.

H. G. Wells cleverly solved (or more accurately ignored) the technical aspects of space travel in his 1901 novel, The First Men in the Moon. He did this by creating "cavorite"—a fictitious antigravity substance. His story inspired many young readers to think about space travel. However, space age missions to the Moon have now completely vanquished the delightful (though incorrect) products of this writer's fertile imagination, which included giant moon caves, a variety of lunar vegetation, and even bipedal creatures called Selenites.

The alien creatures whom Wells introduced in his science-fiction stories opened the floodgates of imagination and creativity. Soon, the science-fiction literature, motion pictures, and eventually television programs contained all manner of extraterrestrial life-forms, ranging from superintelligent species to aggressive alien insects, reptiles, and arachnids. This almost endless parade of fictional extraterrestrial creatures has included humanoid aliens; intelligent canine and feline species; aquatic aliens, plants, and fungi; conscious rocklike creatures; shape-shifting critters; parasites; and all manner of robots, androids, and cyborgs. Perhaps reflecting some of the human author or director's own extraterrestrial life chauvinisms, the vast majority of the fictional alien creatures resided on planets, although a few almost spiritlike, noncorporeal creatures, capable of living in outer space, have also appeared. (Extraterrestrial-life chauvinisms are discussed in chapter 3.)

However, in many of his other fictional works, Wells was often able to anticipate advances in technology correctly. This earned him the status of a technical prophet. For example, he foresaw the military use of the airplane in his 1908 work The War in the Air and foretold of the splitting of the atom in his 1914 novel The World Set Free.

Following his period of successful fantasy and science-fiction writing, Wells focused on social issues and the problems associated with emerging technologies. For example, in his 1933 novel, The Shape of Things to Come, he warned about the problems facing western civilization. In 1935, Alexander Korda produced a dramatic movie version of this futuristic tale. The movie closes with a memorable philosophical discussion on (technological) pathways for the human race. Sweeping an arm, as if to embrace the entire universe, one of the main characters asks his colleague: "Can it really be our destiny to conquer all this?" As the scene fades out, his companion replies: "The choice is simple. It is the whole universe or nothing. Which shall it be?"

The famous novelist and visionary died in London on August 13, 1946. He had lived through the horrors of two world wars and witnessed the emergence of many powerful new technologies, except space technology. His last book, Mind at the End of Its Tether, appeared in 1945. In this work, Wells expressed a growing pessimism about humanity's future prospects.

On October 30, 1938, the American actor and film director (George) Orson Welles (1915-85) produced a radio production of H. G. Wells's

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