The Works of H. G. Wells: Men Like Gods - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Works of H. G. Wells: Men Like Gods

Alexander Wallace visits Utopia.
H. G. Wells was very much a utopian writer, but his best-known works tend to obscure that fact. The War of the Worlds is invasion literature but with Martians. The Invisible Man is a parable on what we would do if we could act completely anonymously (I’m reminded of TvTropes’ GIFT). The Island of Doctor Moreau is about the dangers of playing God. The Time Machine is about class and its discontents. It seems like there isn’t any dream of a better world if you simply take the works that have remained in the popular conscience.

But some of his works are very much in that vein. Men Like Gods is one that does not so much involve it as whack you over the head with it repeatedly. Fortunately, Wells was a great writer, and so it never becomes plodding that it might have become in the hands of a lesser author.
The protagonist of this novel is a Mr. Barnstaple, a newspaperman, husband, and father who has begun to tire of all of it. He climbs into his car, a garishly painted vehicle dubbed ‘yellow peril,’ and begins to drive. While on the road, he and several other travelers find themselves whisked away onto another world, where they encounter a different sentient species. Creatively, they call this world ‘Utopia’ and its inhabitants ‘Utopians.’ It seems that Wells was not particularly interested in being subtle in this novel - but utopias are seldom subtle.

There’s a number of interesting - if only in the metaphorical Chinese sense - characters that have been whisked away with Mr. Barnstaple. There’s the devoutly religious Mr. Amerton and the jingoistic Rupert Catskill, two characters who provide the most venomous reactions to the society that the Utopians have created.

This Utopia is one that can read as stunningly modern to a reader in the year 2021. It is a world where bullshit work has been eradicated and leisure time drastically increased; people spend most of their time in artistic or scientific pursuits. Homelessness and starvation have been abolished, as have some species of insect (this appalls an environmentally-minded character). It’s an ideal that has been promoted by many in our world, such as David Graeber.

But there is another way, far less pleasant, in how this book reads as stunningly modern to 2021: after arriving in this new world and engaging in many conversations about the differences from their own, the Utopians realize that the humans have brought along earthly diseases and need to be quarantined. Amerton, our religious character, starts going on about how the quarantine is overblown and that vaccines are useless. It sounds painfully familiar.

Much of this book is about how possible a better world truly is; in this regard, it presages a good deal of science fiction that would later come (such as in this article I wrote). The Utopia of the novel is stated to have come about through great suffering and great strife, as the noble and the valiant fought against the combined forces of a greedy upper class (again, sound familiar?). The Utopians refer to the time before this new society as the ‘age of confusion,’ a term Mr. Barnstaple quickly begins to apply to his own time, our world in 1921.

The objections to this world are ones that will likewise sound familiar. The most biting one is the accusation that this world has turned the utopians into those that laze about today, and that people need something to struggle against. A more confusing one, but one worth pondering, is that the utopians have forgotten how to love.

Some values resonate; those espoused by Men Like Gods certainly have. Let nobody say that old science fiction is hopelessly outdated, for sometimes you will find that which looks like a light lit long ago shining to this very day.

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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