Wells Addiction

Reading ‘The Time Machine’ more than rekindled my interest in Wellsian science fiction—I was burning with an almost addictive desire to read more of his work. As a boy I’d been an avid reader of 1950s sci-fi authors, such as Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein but had only read a couple of Wells’s works. I’m sure I was too young to fully appreciate Wells’s work, but this certainly wasn’t the case now—with an adult’s perspective I could see exactly what Wells was getting at. He wasn’t merely writing about scientific development, but exploring the the darker side of human nature, more often than not in a provocative manner, creating a hooha in Christian and scientific communities alike, in order to get his point across. And what was his point? He challenged orthodox, blindly accepted views, digging and damaging that terribly thin, fragile veneer of Victorian etiquette—which could barely hide all the brutalities, immorality and cruelties that British ‘civilisation’ was built on—to reveal what lies beneath. This was surely the stuff of great lyric writing material—it was imperative that I read more.

‘The War of the Worlds’ (written 1898) was my next port of call. I’d read the book many years ago at secondary school as part of English class and recall the novel’s powerful, central theme—we, humanity are not top dog. There was, and still is this assumption that the Earth and it’s creatures are ours to exploit as we will and our advances in science and technology have enabled us to ever more efficiently plunder the Earth without care or consideration for the environment, animals or even each other. There’s no doubt that humanity has made unimaginable technological progress, but it seems to me there has been little or no progress at all in the development of human compassion and morality. This theme runs through all of Wells’s work like a motherlode in some form or another, and in The War of the Worlds man gets what’s coming to him when the all-powerful Martians arrive with their mighty machines to destroy our civilisation as easily as a boy might kick over an ant hill. My memory is also vividly etched with Jeff Wayne’s musical version of the story and I was particularly curious to see if I could gain any insight on how Doreen Wayne had created the script for the album. Like The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds is a short novel, a novella (most of Wells’s scientific romances are novellas), which is ideal for those attempting to create magnificent musicals out of them as less words, means less work.

I ploughed through a few other of H.G. Wells’s scientific romances, ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘The Sleeper Awakes’ and ‘A Modern Utopia’ before arriving at what could be argued to be one of his finest literary achievements, ‘The Island of Doctor Moreau’. It’s unrelentingly grotesque, gruesome, horrific, repulsive and an utterly compelling read—a real ‘page-turner’ in which Wells employs devastating satire to mock organised religion and question mankind’s supposedly unique position in nature. Doctor Moreau was published right after The Time Machine about a year later in 1896 and in this short time Wells had certainly honed his writing skills and moved things up a gear. Doctor Moreau’s ‘beast-folk’, animals that have been surgically and chemically modified in an attempt to make them more perfectly human are, in fact barely human at all—they’re poor dumb creatures, struggling with the burden of their malfunctioning humanity. In places the novel almost reads like a sequel to The Time Machine, fleshing out the dark, degenerate and dehumanised world of the Morlocks. Yet more of the right stuff for song writing material.

H.G. Wells was capable of some incredible insights and prescience, it’s almost as if he had somehow seen the future with his own eyes in his own time machine. He didn’t just write science fiction though, he also penned romances, political, comedy, short stories, semi-autobiographical, past and future historical works—’Ann Veronica’, ‘Tono-Bungay’ and ‘Kipps’ are particularly memorable reads and I can honestly say I always came out of a Wells book with something new and useful to weave into the script or lyrics for my songs. With song lyrics in progress, The Time Machine musical was slowly becoming more substantial, solid and real. No longer an idea, but a reality, an ongoing concern, now all I needed was to get on with the business of making more and better music. Now just where on earth was that going to come from…?

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