Remembering H.G. Wells by Sidney Williams

History assumes importance by how we respond to it. The importance of past authors is the connections we make with them, either through reading their work or understanding how their work influences other authors we may be moved by.

Sidney Williams, is  an author of adult and young adult genre literature. Below is his personal reaction to an important figure in science fiction…

My Reading Life with H.G. Wells

I don’t often list H.G. Wells as a favorite author when I fill out those various and sundry message board or social media profiles asking for that sort of thing, but those who spend any of their reading lives on imaginative fiction are almost inevitably touched by Wells.

He wrote more than science fiction, of course, but it’s his work in the genre that captured my imagination early on, and since this is a moth of SF literary remembrance, it’s a nice time to reflect.

My first encounter was when I was in single digits, and my dad got me a Classics Illustrated edition of The Invisible Man. I couldn’t read yet, but between the periods Dad could read it to me, I thumbed the comic endlessly, looking over and over at the unwrapping of the bandages that revealed the nothing beneath. It was fascinating.

Classics Illustrated marked my earliest true reading of Wells also. Irwin Allen’s Time Tunnel had sparked my imagination about time travel, and when I noticed The Time Machine listed on the back of another Classics Illustrated title, it intrigued me enough to beg my mom to order it.

I was surprised when the comic came in the mail that the hero went forward in time instead of back to the Titanic or The Alamo, but a few pages in, I was enraptured by the adventures among the ruins of civilization. “I had come

upon mankind on the wane,” the traveler noted in one caption as he explored ruins, before he went on to encounter the Morlock and the Eloi and their conflicts and social messages.

The Classics comic was a gateway, and I read the full novel in the school library in a huge Wells omnibus.

In junior high, I also encountered Wells in a different way. Someone had a paperback called Stranger Than Fiction, which included a chapter on the Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” 1938 radio adaptation, which terrified millions. I’d seen the Gene Barry movie version on TV with my dad and been scared, but this showed me even more terror had abounded.

The Stranger Than Fiction book reproduced large segments of the script, with the Wells novel told in a series of news broadcasts set in the 1938 present—fascinating on many levels, as a story and as a phenomenon.

I encountered Wells again in college when I wasn’t expecting him, at a speech and theatre festival where I saw a brilliant adaptation of “In The Country of the Blind.” The tale about a lost traveler in the Andes who falls into a valley where everyone is without sight, offered itself nicely to a non-traditional, reader’s theatre staging with a narrator and plenty of action.

The “blind” players wore blindfolds to suggest their lack of eyes, and the dramatic confrontation in which they locked arms to thwart the efforts of the imperialistic mountain climber was wonderful.

There was Wells, on the bill with John Barth, at an event where they spelled theatre with an “r-e.” Important!

I encountered Wells again a few years ago when I was asked to write an audio adaptation of the War of the Worlds.  My assignment, as the Tom Cruise movie rolled out, was to script a period-accurate adaptation, so I spent a couple of months one summer immersed in the novel. It gave me a new appreciation of the material.

I walked with the struggling hero through the torn landscape and faced the assaults of Martians and the moral and social decisions.

On a visit to Seattle that summer, as I worked, I also got to see an incredible model of the Martian walkers at the Science Fiction Museum. I came to love the novel with a fresh respect when that was over.

While I don’t list Wells as a favorite author, it’s clear I should.

His work’s always been there for me and for my imagination, and I think it always will. The other day I downloaded his 1894 ghost story “The Red Room” for my Kindle.

What’s your experience of Wells? If you’re reading this blog, I bet you’ve had one or two.

[Sidney has also written a faithful audio drama of War of the Worlds available here. ]

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