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Creator / H. G. Wells

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"Human history in essence is the history of ideas."

Herbert George Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) was an English Science Fiction writer who, along with Jules Verne, defined the genre during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and spawned many tropes, including the Time Machine and the Alien Invasion.

His most famous works have been adapted into film multiple times. The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds are probably the best-known. He also wrote well-regarded realistic novels about lower middle-class English life, one of which, Kipps, was adapted into the London and Broadway musical hit Half A Sixpence.

Many of his novels were written in the first person, narrated by a typically unnamed character. In many adaptations, The Time Machine's unnamed time-traveler is H.G. Wells himself, which has led to other works using the real-life Wells as a time-traveling character.

In his later life, he turned more toward what he thought society should be like; fictional Utopias and Dystopias and nonfiction books on socialist thought alike. Though Wells thought of these works as more important, it's his early stuff that's thought of as classic, at least in part because it is generally better written. G. K. Chesterton compared him to Esau, saying that just as the latter had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, so Wells traded his talent for a pot of message (although he was a fine one to talk). For clarity, Wells did identify his political views as socialist, but it was a distinctly non-Marxist socialism he advocated, and hoped would prevent the violence destruction that he believed class conflict would otherwise lead to without a technologically and socially progressive international movement.

His life had quite the Bittersweet Ending, as he was very worried about the rise of Nazism and warned that it might just lead to an apocalypse like the ones he'd written about, which can make it a relief that he lived long enough to see the end of World War II...until you realize this also means one of the last major scientific achievements he witnessed was another of his feared forecasts, the atomic bomb.

Often portrayed, in fiction, in Beethoven Was an Alien Spy-style situations, involving either Time Travel or Aliens. If they do involve time travel, he usually ends up in the modern world and becomes very depressed over the fact that modern society is just as far away from his proposed utopias as his own time was. Said fictional portrayals often leave out the fact that his voice resembled an English-accented version of Tex Avery's Droopy (as can be heard in a radio interview he did with Orson Welles (no relation)).

It's been said that he invented almost every basic modern science fiction device except for alternate universes. His stories, along with those of Jules Verne, are also a major influence on Steampunk. Along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback, Wells is often considered "The Father of Science Fiction".

In many ways, the works of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are polar opposites. Verne paid particular attention to technological realism, making him perhaps the world's first hard science fiction author; but he paid little heed to the social ramifications of such technology, projecting 19th century Europe into the future indefinitely. Wells, on the other hand, cared little if his proposed inventions violated every known law of science, but he was keenly interested in how society would change and pulled no punches when it came to civilization's impermanence.

He is also considered a founding father of commercial wargames. He and some of his adult friends started playing with toy soldiers, and starting codifying rules. He felt it was better than fighting a real war, because "Tin soldiers don't leave behind tin widows and tin orphans." Wells eventually published Little Wars which contains the story of the creation of the game, the many balance and Game-Breaker issues they ran into, and a suggested set of large scale miniature rules. Little Wars is still required reading for prospective game designers. Another over-looked aspect of his life is that in his 'middle period' from around 1900-1920 he authored fiction that mostly lacked any science-fiction elements, such as Anne Veronica and The History of Mr. Polly.

It's probably also worth mentioning that the man was extremely popular with the ladies. The Other Wiki lists six confirmed lovers in addition to his two wives, and he probably managed quite a few others. Considering his bibliography runs to around 50 novels and a similar number of non-fiction works, he was clearly a master of time management. Hey, wait a second...

As one of the founders of science fiction, he often shows up in modern sci-fi works as a Historical Domain Character.

Works by H. G. Wells with their own trope pages include:

Other works by H. G. Wells provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The 1936 film version of The Man Who Could Work Miracles, whose script Wells contributed to, expands on the adventures of the eponymous George McWhirter Fotheringay (and gives an explicit source to his sudden powers).
  • Attack of the Killer Whatever:
    • "The Empire of the Ants" has an army of intelligent, unstoppable (albeit normal-sized) ants that are slowly but relentlessly conquering the Amazon region of South America; the narrator ends with a prediction that they'll reach Europe within a few decades.
    • Also packs of predatory squid-creatures in "The Sea Raiders" and migrating spiders in, well, "The Valley of the Spiders".
  • Author Filibuster: At one point in Kipps, the narrator interrupts a scene to deliver a monologue chiding the reader and setting out Wells's social and political views.
    What is the good of keeping up the idyllic sham and pretending that ill-educated, misdirected people "get along very well," and that all this is harmlessly funny and nothing more? You think I'm going to write fat, silly, grinning novels about half-educated, under-trained people and keep it up all the time, that the whole thing's nothing but funny! As I think of them lying unhappily there in the darkness, my vision pierces the night. See what I can see! Above them, brooding over them, I tell you there is a monster, a lumpish monster, like some great, clumsy griffin thing, like the Crystal Palace labyrinthodon, like Coote, like the leaden goddess Dulness Pope Abhorred, like some fat, proud flunkey, like pride, like indolence, like all that is darkening and heavy and obstructive in life. It is matter and darkness, it is the anti-soul, Stupidity. My Kippses live in its shadow.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: "The Empire of the Ants" ends with the ants completely overtaking the Amazon and a grim prediction that they will overrun the rest of the world in decades at most.
  • Bug War: "The Empire of the Ants", though the ants are far from a mindless swarm, which is what makes them so lethally dangerous.
  • City in a Bottle: "The Country of the Blind" is about a mountaineer who, while visiting Ecuador, stumbles upon a lost population of people living in a valley that has been cut off from the rest of the world. Thanks to a disease that rendered their citizens blind and unable to produce sighted children, the entire population is now sightless. They have no concept of how vision works — and no idea of what eyes are for. The visitor thinks, because of his extra sense, that he will be able to easily take over the valley, but it turns out the villagers' other senses have compensated for their loss of vision and they remain virtually unimpaired. (They also regard his "vision" as something of a curse, which is driving him crazy, and decide there is only one medically sound solution.)
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: "The Cone" has a man being thrown on top of a blast furnace.
  • Drunk with Power: Fotheringay gets more and more extravagant with his wishes. It ends very badly.
  • The End of the World as We Know It:
    • The passing of "The Star" through the Solar System inflicts this on humanity, stopping just short of an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
    • As implied by the title, "A Dream of Armageddon" has a character relating his vivid vision of a future world being consumed by global war.
  • Exact Words: In "The Truth about Pyecraft" the fat Pyecraft drinks an Indian potion which promotes "Loss of Weight". (The narrator describes it as "committing the sin of euphemism".) Instead of making him thinner the potion decreases his mass, making his body behave like a balloon. Since the lift of a man-sized balloon cannot be as strong as described, even for a very fat man, his gravitational mass may have become negative.
  • For Science!: Sort of the attitude of the protagonists of "The New Accelerator"; as the story ends, they are rather casually preparing to mass-produce and sell a product which will likely upend human society in countless ways. (See below under "Super Speed".)
  • God Guise: "Jimmy Goggles the God" has a character unwillingly becoming the god of a tribe of rather xenophobic tropical natives thanks to the primitive diving suit he's wearing when he encounters them. ("Jimmy Goggles" is the nickname that the suit is given before the encounter.)
  • Grail in the Garbage: "The Crystal Egg" turns up in a obscure second-hand store before being lost again, at least as far as the narrator and reader are concerned.
  • Great Big Library of Everything: World Brain is a series of essays and lectures Wells wrote in the 1930s, arguing humanity should build a version of this combined with a radically transformed education system, albeit with more durable storage media (Wells suggested microfilm) than leather, ink and bound paper.
  • He Also Did: Most famous for his science fiction, Wells also wrote numerous novels and short stories with no fantastical elements whatsoever, along with Little Wars, a treatise on war gaming, and the aforementioned World Brain essays on humanity’s need for a “universal library”.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: The narrator speculates that "The Crystal Egg" is an example of this, sent from Mars to allow that planet's inhabitants to (evidently idly) view life on Earth.
  • Literal Genie: In "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" has numerous examples of this, culminating in Fotheringay ordering the sun to not set. The wish-granting force, whatever it is, accomplishes this by abruptly halting the Earth's rotation. Just the Earth itself, not anything currently on the Earth's surface.
  • Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair: A recurring theme in Wells's work is that while technology represents some of the best aspects of humanity, it can just as easily be our undoing if used unwisely.
  • Magic Meteor: In the Days Of The Comet (1906) is about a comet smothering the planet in green vapours which renders everyone euphoric and pacifist.
  • Man-Eating Plant: "The Flowering of the Strange Orchid" describes a an exotic orchid that overwhelms victims with its powerful odor, knocking them out, before drinking their blood.
  • Perpetual Motion Machine: "A Tale of the Twentieth Century" is a humourous short story about a train that gets converted into one. Unfortunately, the brakes don't work...
  • Reality Warper: George McWhirter Fotheringay, the title character in the short story "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" does exactly what it says he does. He discovers that he possesses virtually unlimited magic power, but has no understanding of how it works.
  • Reality Warping Is Not a Toy: In "The Man Who Could Work Miracles", George Fotheringay discovers he can work miracles; he can wish anything to happen and it does. He wishes the sun to not set, causing the Earth's rotation to instantly stop, sending everything on the planet's surface flying. He wishes to survive this, then very carefully wishes for a Reset Button back to the moment he discovered his powers and that he wouldn't have them.
  • Reset Button: After the Literal Genie incident above, Fotheringay very carefully makes one last wish that results in this.
  • Sacrificial Planet: Neptune gets destroyed in "The Star". At the very end, Earth essentially becomes this, at least as far as observing Martian astronomers are concerned.
  • Shown Their Work: a number of his works, both science fiction and otherwise, involve plot elements and details that are accurate to the day's science. In certain cases this can be easy to miss from a modern perspective, such as The Time Machine's depiction of a far-future Earth baked by a dying, bloated Sun (based on then-cutting-edge theoretical work on star life cycles).
  • Spiritual Successor: "The Shape of Things to Come" to "The War in the Air", bordering on a Stealth Sequel. The first part of the former is essentially a Broad Strokes reworking of the final part of the latter, accounting for Science and Technology marching on.
  • Super-Speed: As noted, "The New Accelerator" depicts the narrator helping a scientist test the latter's new formula that induces this ability in humans.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Despite the comparisons between him and Verne above, his story "The New Accelerator" attempts to realistically show the dangers that would result if someone were to develop the ability to move at super-speed. (ie, clothes catching on fire due to the friction.)
  • Tank Goodness: The Ur-Example in modern fiction can be found in Wells's short story "The Land Ironclads", which foresaw the tank's paradigm-shifting impact on warfare. Among the predictions is the potential for (newly invented at the time) Pedrail wheels to allow massive armed and armored vehicles to unstoppably plow over men and defenses alike. Though the pedrails would be replaced by caterpillar tracks and the steam engines replaced with petrol, the idea of a plodding armored behemoth would soon come to real life.
  • Treasure Map: One appears in "The Treasure in the Forest".
  • Trope Namer: He coined the first incarnation of what would later become the phrase "The War to End All Wars", in a series of newspaper articles he wrote in August 1914 that were collected into the brochure The War That Will End War.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: "The War in the Air" was written in 1907 and takes place in the late 1910s.
  • Unexpectedly Real Magic: The short story The Man Who Could Work Miracles centers on one George Fotheringay, a nondescript fellow who's been both unremarkable and a skeptic into his thirties. While debating with comrades at a bar, Fotheringay commands a table candle to levitate inverted, and its flame burn downwards as well. To everyone's astonishment, the candle and flame do precisely that. His sudden Reality Warper powers unnerve Fotheringay, though he later conducts further trials of his newfound powers.
    • In The Magic Shop the father soon notices that the magic is not a sly trick.
  • Weight Loss Horror: Played for Laughs in "The Truth About Pyecraft". A very fat man takes a potion to lose weight. And he does — but he doesn't actually become thinner. He just weighs less until he's floating up on the ceiling of his bedroom like a large balloon.