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Literature / The Shape of Things to Come

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The Shape of Things to Come is a 1933 Speculative Fiction novel by H. G. Wells, detailing mankind's struggles to survive and reach the future in the midst of global war and societal collapse.

The original novel prognosticates World War II (though in the book the war lasts for a decade or more), which ends inconclusively but decimates all of civilization — not helped by a horrific plague which nearly effaces the human populace (in the book the 'history writer' claims the world population was cut in half).

Wells then envisions a benevolent One World Order which comes in and, using its monopoly on the world's surviving transportation infrastructure, begins to rebuild society into a scientific utopia. After a century, the One World Order is peacefully overthrown, after which the utopia is apparently achieved.

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The novel was adapted to film as Things to Come in 1936, and the title (and little else) was appropriated for another sci-fi film in 1979. The novel also provided the title for an episode of Lost and the closing sequence of Caprica, amongst other Shout Outs in popular culture.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "Fighting Forties" (a decade of war), "Famished Fifties" (a decade of tortuously slow rebuilding amid privation and mass disease).
  • After the End: One of the earliest examples of the modern "humanity bombs itself back to feudal times" form of the trope
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: downplayed, but present in some areas
  • Atomic Hate: popularized, and may have coined, the term "Atomic Bomb", and predicted many of the forms the technology took, such as submarine-borne ballistic missiles.
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  • Author Tract: The book is essentially a long, long fictional essay about why Wells' particular brand of socialism was the only way to a perfect society.
  • Balkanize Me: As an aftermath of the novel's version of World War II, the effectiveness of many countries' governments to enforce their power faded in varying degrees, rendering many regions de facto autonomous.
  • Black Shirt: Actual Fascist Italy Black Shirts are still operating some time after the second Conference at Basra in 1978.
  • Divided States of America: For example Utah, where Mormonism was then declared the state religion.
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up: Subverted when the book (more or less accurately) prognosticates the start of World War II. Then double-subverted when the book's WWII goes on for over a decade and completely obliterates all of human society.
  • Just Before the End: Where the story begins
  • Monumental Damage: After World War II all over the place of course. The inconclusive ten-year war ends with a fizzle, and the extensive gas and biological-chemical warfare predicted by Wells during the 1940s creates favorable conditions for mass epidemics throughout the 1950s, along with the loss of reliable electricity, food and clothing.
  • Mutually Assured Destruction: an influential early portrayal of the trope, and what could happen if the standoff were to break
  • Next Sunday A.D.: Part one sets up the state of the world in 1933 (the year it was published) and projects from there.
  • No Bikes in the Apocalypse: Averted in chapter 11 Europe in 1960 wherein the Diary of Titus Cobbett is mentioned, written during Cobbett's bicycle ride through the completely devastated Europe of 1958.
  • Lensman Arms Race: one of Well's favorite tropes to begin with, this time taken to its grim Logical Extreme
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The book claims to be adapted from the notes of one Dr. Philip Raven.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: The world government suppresses organised religion with remarkable ease.
  • The Plague: humanity may have done a pretty good job of screwing itself over, but it was the epidemics in the aftermath that nearly finished the job.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: where book quickly moves on to from Next Sunday A.D.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Wings Over The World.
  • Weapon of Mass Destruction: the story is in part the result of Wells reading up on the latest developments in atomic theory, and having a horrifying realization about what it made possible.
  • World War III: As envisioned by someone who had not yet seen World War II.


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