H.G. WELLS: TRAVERSING TIME
by W. Warren Wagar
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
H.G. Wells is the acclaimed author of such novels as Kipps (1905), Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island (1928), and Tono-Bungay (1909). Wells also wrote several historical, scholarly and philosophical works, including The Outline of History (1920), The Science of Life (1931), and Travels of a Republican Radical in Search of Hot Water (1939). Of course, what Wells is most well-known for are his scientific romances, including The War of the Worlds (1898), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), and The Time Machine (1895). Wells scholar W. Warren Wagar shows in H.G. Wells: Traversing Time, that Wells's interest in the nature of time was not restricted to the last named work or even his science fiction, but rather pervaded all his writing.
Although at first glance, H.G. Wells: Traversing Time appears to be another biography of the author and philosopher, Wagar quickly dispells that notion, explaining that a brief summary of Wells's life will be provided in the first chapter and then Wagar will continue to explore the concepts which cropped up throughout Wells's forty-five year career as an author.
Wagar makes a convincing case that Wells had a fascination with time, which led to his more obvious books about the subject, such as The Time Machine, but also his historical texts. To Wells, the passage of time was evolutionary in importance, not just with regard to the evolution of life, but also the evolution of society. This is clearly seen in works such as The Time Machine, in which the evolution of the Eloi and the Morlocks can be neatly traced back to the societal class structure of Wells's England, but it can also be seen in the manner in which Wells approached writing about the world in general.
Evolution, however, is not linear and Wells was well aware that society would not continue to improve (in his opinion), but would also suffer set backs. Many of Wells's works have both a sense of optimism and admonition. Wells appears to be hoping that over time the human race will overcome its foibles, but also knew that mankind's baser elements were always lurking to reverse what Wells would consider progress.
Perhaps one of the strengths of Wagar's book is also its biggest weakness. Wagar, who died earlier this year, spent his life studying Wells and had a familiarity with his subject which few of his readers can match. Despite his best intentions, Wagar occasionally assumes knowledge on behalf of his readers which is probably misplaced. He also adopts a relatively familiar writing style which is at odds with the scholarly voice used throughout the book.
H.G. Wells: Traversing Time is a complex volume, discussing numerous works by Wells, including many which are not readily available or known to the general audience. Wagar's style of writing is more inviting than it could have been and often hides the intricacy of his subject and Wells's beliefs. In the end, however, the reader will come away with a more clear understanding of the man's work.
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