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julianmeynell

Julian Meynell's Books

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SPOILER ALERT!

Wells' In the Days of the Comet

In the Days of the Comet - H.G. Wells

I continue to think of Wells as an under-appreciated genius.  This book is close to his most obscure and I read it primarily because I have a thing for comets.  It concerns a comet that comes by and by changing the atmosphere, essentially makes people wiser, more moral and less selfish.

 

Wells was always torn between an official socialist-scientific optimism and an unconscious pessimistic view of human nature combined with a knowledge of the evil purposes that technology can be put to.  It is that tension in his work that makes him so good, but here the utopianism is in the ascendent.  Wells is at his best, when his pessimism triumphs as in The Time Machine or The Island of Dr. Moreau.  Here h describes a utopian society that is created, essentially magically, by the operation of a comet.  This comet transforms the human population by making it humane and wise and as a result everyone pulls together and makes a wonderland.

 

The book, written in 1906, prefigures the disastrous utopian experiments of the twentieth century.  We see commune living as ideal, free love of the 1960's type, and something that looks very much like the Cultural Revolution.  From the perspective of now it is all very unconvincing as a utopia. However, Wells remains interesting in his story of the narrator before the influence of the comet who is a selfish, embittered would be murderer.  That stuff is good.  Also, the tension between the two different Wells reappears in the last couple of pages with the implication that the kind of people capable of making such a society are more like Gods than Humans.

 

It is interesting and worth reading, but pessimist Wells is the genius and not optimist Wells, who is naive.