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Julian Meynell's Books

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Wells' When the Sleeper Wakes

When the Sleeper Wakes - Orson Scott Card, H.G. Wells

This is a lesser known work of Wells and not taken as seriously as some of his more well known works.  Having read enough Wells, I was not surprised to see that it was considerably better than it is supposed to be.  The book belongs to Wells' great period from 1894 to 1901, when Wells managed to anticipate virtually the whole of future science fiction in novels of genius.  This work despite its reputation deserves to be in that league, and for instance, is better than the Invisible man.

This book is really the grand-daddy of futuristic dystopias and everything from 1984 to The Hunger Games owes a debt to it.  It is a sort of companion piece to the Time Machine with very many of the same concerns.  The society described can easily be imagined as the society that would birth the Morlocks and the Eloi.  The protagonist is The Sleeper who until the end is very much a typical passive observer Wells' protagonist, although he is the immediate cause of the events of the novel.  The sleeper has been in a trance for 200 years and wakes up to find himself the owner of the world through compound interest.  There are then a series of revolutions with tension between manipulative exploiters and the socialist masses.  The workers are also "the sleeper" and they to "awake."

Wells' chief concern was the conflict between his socialist utopianism and his scientific pessimism.  He sees the future as one of potential oppression and Darwanistic operations on the very nature of humanity.  This book is very much that.  The book is directly about that conflict (as is The Time Machine, First Men in the Moon, and In the Days of the Comet).  It is quite subtle, and in this case leans to the optimistic.  Well's is more successful when he leans to the pessimistic, but what some might see as philosophical confusions, are really the expressions of this conflict, which haunted Well's all his life and is the foundation of his genius.