Herbert George or H. G. Wells, best known for his books The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, had enormous influence on our thinking of the future and the science fiction genre in general as his career took off during the turn of the 20th century. He is often referred to as the “Father of Science Fiction” and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times. But what of the man behind the author? It turns out that Wells wasn’t predisposed to love literature, but came to enjoy reading and eventually writing due to a series of somewhat unfortunate events.
H. G. Wells was born in 1866 in England, to working class parents. His father was a shopkeeper, though not very successful, and also played cricket professionally until he incurred an injury to his thigh. Young Herbert was in very poor health, and his parents were often concerned that he wouldn’t live to be an adult. Wells’ older sister had died young, and he seemed to be headed the same way. At age 7, Herbert suffered a terrible accident and was bedridden for a long time. It was during this time that he began reading books from the library, brought to him by his father. Wells became obsessed with other world and characters within these books. This time was seen as a defining moment in shaping the author that H. G. Wells would eventually become.
Wells’ mother worked as a housekeeper at an estate with a rather extensive library. When young Herbert would accompany his mother to work, he took full advantage of the library, reading works by Jonathan Swift, Voltaire, and other important authors of the Enlightenment. When it came time for Wells to earn money, he began as an assistant to a draper in his early teens. He hated the job, and eventually quit to become a teacher, which allowed him to continue his studies. Later, Wells won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, where he studied biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy. He always had a great passion for science, which comes through in his work as an author.
The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel first published in hardcover in 1897 in London by publisher William Heinemann. It is famous for being one of the first stories that fictionalizes the narrative of man versus extraterrestrial life. The plot was also attributed as a piece of invasion literature, a genre that existed between 1871 and World War I and earned its name for fictionalizing hypothetical invasions by foreign powers.
The War of the Worlds, outside of its brilliance as a work of science fiction, is known for its commentary on British imperialism, evolutionary theory, and Victorian superstitions, fears, and prejudices that existed at the time it was written. The technology imagined in the story was somewhat groundbreaking, and even influenced actual scientists, such as Robert Goddard, whose inspiration from the novel led to his creation of the liquid fueled rocket and multistage rocket, both of which resulted in the Apollo 11 moon landing 71 years after the book’s publication. The War of the Worlds has never been out of print, and recreated in other forms such as feature films, radio dramas, television series, a record album, and even comic book adaptations.
The War of the Worlds is a tour de force whose innumerable fictional offspring include numerous adaptations and homages, by far the most effective of which was Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater radio broadcast of 1938.
The radio broadcast was something remembered for generations. At the time, it was delivered in such a fashion that many didn’t realize it was fiction. The chilling radio tale, brought to life magnificently by Orson Welles, has superseded other adaptations of the story, including the most recent film adaptation by Steven Spielberg starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning.
One of H. G. Wells’ greatest and most classic novels, The War of the Worlds is available in its first edition, with 16 pages of publisher’s advertisements at the end dated Autumn, 1897.
Other great first edition works available by H. G. Wells include Mankind in the Making, inscribed by the author.