The Works of H. G. Wells: The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Works of H. G. Wells: The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth

Alexander Wallace witnesses the coming of Bigness in the world.
Making the small grow big: it is a common trope in media for children; we are oftentimes quite amused by a child the size of Godzilla. There are other examples, of course, one of my favorite being an oversized Plankton rampaging Bikini Bottom in Spongebob Squarepants: Creature from the Krusty Krab. I suppose it appeals to the part of the child’s psyche that is sick of viewing everything from the vantage point of the height of a dinner table, allowing for the briefest of moments to see the world as an adult does, or even more so.

Writing in 1904, H. G. Wells probably had a very different idea of gigantism when he penned The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth. It is one of his lesser-known novels, one that is not quite so fantastic as his better-known works, nor is it as prescient as some of his more terrifying ones, like The War in the Air or The World Set Free. In all frankness, it is one of his lesser works; it never achieves the literary heights of what he would later accomplish. Nevertheless, I do not regret reading it; there are several amusing things in store here

The novel starts out with a rather amusing portrayal of the scientists who end up creating the titular ‘food of the gods,’ technically named Herakleaphorbia IV. but later dubbed by an incredulous press ‘boomfood,’ as that is what it does: make the size of any living thing it is fed to grow many times over. There are two scientists, Bensington and Redwood, who spend much time trying to figure out the applications of this new substance. It turns out that, to repeat an old cliche, they had spent so much time thinking about what they could do, at the expense of thinking about what they should do. These two scientists are reminiscent of many more humorous portrayals of their profession today; they are socially awkward and more than a little odd, this first section not merely having much dedicated to their squabbling but multiple actual diagrams (it shows how much popular literature has changed since then, juxtaposing this with how Stephen Hawking only included one equation in A Brief History of Time).

Boomfood begins to seep into the local wildlife, which then grows rapidly out of hand; the two bumbling scientists enlist the help of a local engineer, Cossar, to deal with the problem. This section of the book reads much like a sillier creature feature novel, a literary equivalent of a B-Movie. In terms of its action, it is the most dynamic part of the book; the rest of it is far more character-heavy.

Other sections of the book discuss the effect of such growth on human beings. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the book is the life of Redwood’s son who is fed boomfood and from there begins to bemuse the entirety of the village in which he lives, manifested mostly through the local vicar. The best scene in this section is when this gigantic child wandering the countryside comes upon two lovers at their trysting-place and picks them up like dolls and inquires as to what, exactly, they were doing. It is the best scene in the novel, and quite funny.

One of the major themes in this book more generally is the ostracization that the new giants undergo; they are reviled by the hoi polloi and the British tabloid press (which, in light of certain recent events, is very certainly a beast more vicious than anything given boomfood). There is an immensely emotionally impactful scene where two giants meet each other for the first time; it is the first time they find someone who can relate to their peculiar, man-made condition.

The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth, ultimately, is about whether humanity can accept what humanity can create. Sure, we can make gigantic people, but will there be any real place in our society for them? It’s a message that has aged remarkably well, with the burgeoning possibility of gene editing and artificial intelligence and other such things. Wells was a mindful man, and here he calls out, perhaps more explicitly than in any other of his novels, to be mindful.

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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