The Works of H. G. Wells: All Aboard for Ararat - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Works of H. G. Wells: All Aboard for Ararat

Alexander Wallace gets caught in the flood.
The idea that we can simply press a button and rewrite human existence is one that has oftentimes been quite tempting; it’s a trend that I call ‘apocalyptic utopianism.’ Blowing the world to Kingdom Come is certainly one way to create a blank slate upon which to create your ideal world (I’ve written on the subject here). It is a theme that has shown up so many times in science fiction and alternate history. In All Aboard for Ararat, H. G. Wells reimagines what is perhaps the earliest example of such a concept: the story of Noah’s Ark.

This is not the first time Wells flirted with such ideas; his novel The World Set Free, which eerily predicted the atomic bomb in all its radiant horror, depicts the obliteration of the Westphalian order in atomic hellfire and then the establishment of a newer, better society on its ruins. On some level, is not that the exact course of the story of Noah’s Ark? In that ancient story, God declares that humanity has fallen and must be purged, entrusting the few worthy souls still left on this benighted planet onto an ark. God then begins to ‘rattle the wind and tide,’ drowning a sinful world, rebuilding it with those chosen few to build something new.
This, being an H. G. Wells work, is not a straight retelling of the original myth; as he does with so many different conceits, he makes it into a meditation on some aspect of human civilization. In this case, it is humanity’s ability to regulate humanity, to make the species conform to a model that we so desperately want it to be. Such a preposition is a dangerous one, as it can lead to untold destruction (as I have discussed elsewhere on this site) and untold suffering, all in the name of improving humanity’s lot.

In some ways, All Aboard for Ararat is not so much a novella (it is a rather short work, not long enough to be a novel - I read it in one night) as it is almost a socratic dialogue; in this regard, it reminds me strongly of a prototype of Yanis Varoufakis’ Another Now, which imagines a utopian world through a truly immense amount of dialogue and not terribly much else. In Wells’ work, there are two characters: the creatively named Noah Lamnock and a strange old man with a flowing white beard who is revealed to be God Himself rather early on. The two talk about the sort of things that you’d expect a man to talk about when he gets to talk to the Almighty: about justice and peace and faith and reason, and about the book that He proclaimed as His word.

God chooses Mr. Lamnock to discuss one overriding question: who to put on a new ark. God is likewise displeased with the world of 1940, the novella’s publication; it is a world that is at war, where Germany has invaded Poland and France, where Japan brutalizes China, and where Britain is about to experience death from above. With all that, you can see why He’d want to start anew. Much of the book is centered on who would be put on this new ark, and what its goals will be. They talk much of how He is disappointed with us; you get a very distinct impression that He is trying to avoid taking responsibility for the natural and human cruelties that He enabled and did nothing to stop.

This is, in all honesty, not one of Wells’ better works. The plot is frankly an excuse, and its philosophical underpinnings could have been better served in essay form. The conflict is a purely intellectual one, with none of the adventure of works like The First Men in the Moon or the enduring terror of The War of the Worlds or The War in the Air. All Aboard for Ararat is a book that has been mostly forgotten, and unfortunately I see why. The ark that is so often discussed is finally seen, but not much happens on it, a latter-day Jonah notwithstanding. It is a worthy theme that Wells has chosen, but it is one that has been explored much better elsewhere.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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