H. G. Wells Module Week 11: The Shape of Things to Come (1933)

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

H. G. Wells, The Shape of Things to Come
First published in 1933. n.b. after Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930)

"a book that for all its flaws is one of his most fascinating, most characteristic, and most stunning performances." (Frank MccConnell, The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells, p. 205)

History of the world from 1929-2105. Change through an "open consipiracy" of world revolutionaries.

* Scenario based on J. W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time (1927): the dreams of Dr Philip Raven of the League of Nations, in which he reads a "History of the Future": the decline into war and ruin and the rebuilding of civilisation and a World Government.
* Post-Versailles Europe examined not through contemporary eyes but through the device of a voice from the future.
* What kind of narrative is Things to Come? A novel? A history? A political manifesto? The hero is humanity rather than specific individuals.
* What is Wells's stance? Warning? Advocating? A mixture of the two? It is obvious that WWI was not "the war to end war" but that something equally apocalyptic is on the horizon.
* Note how Weels distances himself from the "History": 4:4 "The Schooling of Mankind" on the "inhumanity" of the account; the tragedy of the story of Essenden and Horthy.
* Technocracy. "A soundly scientific effort to restate economics on a purely physical basis." (p. 291)
* Bloomsbury "a tuberculous London slum" (p. 292)
* Twentieth century revolutionary movements different from the 19th: "it was no longer to be class insurrection of hands; it was to be a revolt of the competent." (p. 305) [cf Heinlein's "competent man"] See also Book 3: 3 "The Technical Revolutionary".
* The internationalism of the engineers and technocrats. Englehart at the 1965 Basra Conference: "You flew here, Tavarish Peshkoff, in my squadron. How do you propose to return?"
* The establishment of the Air and Sea Control. (See Kipling's Aerial Board of Control in "Easy as ABC"). Closing down of religion -- invasion of Mecca, etc. (p. 382)
* "I did not notice ... how small a part women played in the drama that began with the World War." (p. 388) Once political emancipation is achieved, women vanish out of the picture. No women in important positions in Modern State Fellowship. "Ancillary" work.

A critique of Last and First Men? (McConnell, 211): focus away from the vision of racial perfection?

Filmed as Thing to Come, produced by Alexander Korda based on a scenario by Wells. Futuristic costumes; technological utopianism. cf the scene where automatic machines rebuild the world to the music of Arthur Bliss. Concluding tension between turning inwards and the conquest of space. "But for Man no rest and no ending. He must go on -- conquest beyond conquest ... all the planets about him, and at last out across immensity to the stars." See Weston's speech in Out of the Silent Planet (1938): it was this vision Lewis was objecting to.

* How does Shape compare with The World Set Free?

E. M. Forster, "The Machine Stops" (1908)
A deliberately anti-Wellsian story, in reaction to A Modern Utopia (1905) (Not collected until 1928).

Humanity hidden underground, utterly dependent on the Machine. Communication through telephone and a vision -- "plate". (Internet)

Vashti's dislike of seeing the surface of the Earth; Kuno's desire to see the stars "not from the airship, but from the surface of the earth".

The Book of the Machine (The manual): ritual worship -- "thrice she kissed it".

Kuno's dissatisfaction -- finding a way out to the surface. "We have lost the sense of space".

The final breakdown of the Machine: "the sin against the body" -- the substitution of the Machine for both physical and mental exercise: "glozing it over with talk of evolution"

How Wellsian is it? Echoes of the tunnels under the moon, of the "evolved" weak humans of "Year Million".

Robert A. Heinlein, "The Road Must Roll" (1940)
* Heinlein's first story ("Life-Line", 1939) not very far (in time) from the Wells of Shape. Part of a "future history" series: see the chart in The Past Through Tomorrow. The history is a framework for the stories, rather than an end in itself. (Though see Heinlein's historical overview on "The Age of Power..."

*Heinlein's "Tough Optimism": libertarianism and social discipline.

* Does the technology work?

* If not, then the focus of the story must be upon the role of experts, managers and engineers. Not the expertise of the workers, but of a caste of managers.

* Van Kleeck: "Sometimes, lying awake at night, I wonder why we technicians don't just take things over and --"

* Gaines an ex-military man, with an "objective, professional overview" rather than a "sectional interest". The strike is against the public interest and therefore bad: nb Harvey, the protester against the strike plans, asserts his credibility by stressing his loyalty to the guild and the previous strike.

* The scientific, rational psychological profiling: van Kleeck, though, has been fixing the records.

* What is the purpose of the fictional "Functionalism"?

* Unionism vs Management. See the actual "Technocracy" movement of the early 30s. (Website at http://www.technocracy.org/briefs/b50.html has some interesting information.)

* The Transport Engineers as a "semi-military" organisation, with Esprit de corps (the marching song) and an "Academy" turning out "cadets".

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