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How to Build your SF Reference Library: H.G. Wells

By / April 6, 2017 / no comments

As you start to collect books about science fiction, you will, sooner rather than later, come to the problem: H.G. Wells. You see, there are probably more books about Wells than there are about any other science fiction writer. Actually, there are probably more books about Wells than there are about any four or five other science fiction writers, possibly more. So where do you start?

The thing about Wells is that he was so various. Yes, he was a science fiction writer, probably the most formative writer in the history of science fiction, the source to which we trace back most of what is written in science fiction today; but he was also the writer of major mainstream novels, of massive and hugely important textbooks on history and science, a leading political journalist and essayist and much more. From 1895 until his death in 1946 he produced at least four books every single year. If you have ever heard the First World War described as “the war to end all wars”, that phrase is taken from the title of one of Wells’s works, published in the first year of that war.

But as if writing four books a year wasn’t enough to take up your time, he was much more besides. Despite being happily and supportively married to his second wife, Catherine, known to everyone as Jane, he was a serial adulterer who had an unending string of mistresses; yet at the same time he was a vocal advocate of women’s rights. He was a lifelong socialist who stood unsuccessfully for parliament, yet he quarrelled repeatedly with his fellow members of the Fabian Society, and at times seemed to flirt with support for Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. He tried to get himself appointed the first Professor of Sociology at the University of London, a discipline he had partially invented. He was a active supporter of the League of Nations. He scripted films. He was friends with Henry James and Joseph Conrad and Ford Maddox Ford, then fell out with James so spectacularly that it affected the subsequent relationship between science fiction and the literary establishment. He knew just about everyone of any note during the first half of the twentieth century. His third wife, Moura, was a Russian spy. And this barely scratches the surface of all the things that Wells was and did.

A Man of PartsWhen David Lodge wrote a novel about Wells, he called it A Man of Parts. Since the focus of the novel was upon Wells’s sex life, the title was a coy reference to his private parts, but the pun also worked more broadly in encompassing all the many different parts that Wells played throughout his life.

With so much to cover, then, where on earth do you start.

H. G. Wells: Another Kind of LifeWell I’d begin with biography. There are, of course, an awful lot of them. There’s Wells’s own An Experiment in Autobiography, and then there’s H.G. Wells in Love by G.P. Wells which mostly consisted of the sexual indiscretions that were excised from the Experiment in Autobiography. Then there are biography’s that concentrate on Wells’s political life, such as H.G.: The History of Mr Wells by Michael Foot. But for books that cover the entire life but from a literary, and particularly a science fictional angle, we’d recommend H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal by David C. Smith and H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life by Michael Sherborne.

H.G. Wells: Traversing Time (Early Classics of Science Fiction)As for critical studies of Wells, again you’re spoilt for choice. Even narrowing things down to just those works that deal with his science fiction doesn’t make the list any more manageable. We’d start with something general, like H.G. Wells: Traversing Time by W. Warren Wagar. Even just picking up a book like that and turning to the bibliography will reveal just how many other books are out there. War of The Worlds (2005)Where you go from there will largely depend on your particular interest in Wells. For instance, if you’re interested in Wells’s relationship with film, either as the scriptwriter of Things to Come, or as the source for films such as The Time Machine or The War of the Worlds, you might pick up books like H.G. Wells in the Cinema by Alan Wykes or H.G. Wells on Film by Don G. Smith.

Maps of Utopia: H. G. Wells, Modernity and the End of CultureIf, on the other hand, you’re interested in Wells’s relationship with the Modernists, and in particular his quarrel with Henry James, the classic text is Henry James and H.G. Wells edited by Leon Edel and Gordon N. Ray. There’s also a group portrait of Wells along with James, Conrad, Ford and Stephen Crane in Group Portrait by Nicholas Delbanco. Though a more modern work that looks at Wells’s complex relationship with modernism is Maps of Utopia by Simon J. James.

H. G. Wells's «Fin-de-Siècle»: Twenty-first Century Reflections on the Early H. G. Wells- Selections from «The Wellsian» (ALPH: Arbeiten zur ... ALPH: Approaches to Literary Phantasy) (v. 2)Oh and there’s more, so much more. But let’s just finish with two other titles. The journal for everyone interested in Wells is The Wellsian, and essays from that journal are occasionally collected in books such as H.G. Wells’s Fin-de-Siecle edited by John S. Partington. And as an essential reference work, you’ll need H.G. Wells: A Comprehensive Bibliography which is periodically updated by the H.G. Wells Society.

But keep looking, there is vastly more than we have space to include here. Whatever your interest in H.G. Wells (and, frankly, if you have any interest in science fiction then you must have some interest in Wells) you will find a wealth of books that you’ll need on your shelves.




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