The Father of Science Fiction: H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells (born Herbert George Wells in 1866) was a British author - and so much more. To name just a few of his achievements, Wells was a parliamentary candidate, four-time Nobel Prize nominee and a journalist. But his work as a science fiction writer created a legacy, which is still felt to this day.

Wells is frequently described as the ‘father of science fiction’. John Clute, sci-fi historian, describes Wells as the most important writer in the genre’s history.  He has influenced countless writers, including Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

To celebrate World Unidentified Flying Object Day (otherwise known as World UFO Day), we’re revisiting the life and work of H. G. Wells and what made his contribution to literature so special.

Fame and War of the Worlds

Wells was an extraordinarily prolific author. He worked to establish fictional techniques that authors still use today. ‘The Time Machine’, for example, popularised time travel as a narrative tool, while ‘The War of the Worlds’ was one of the earliest novels to feature humans battling an alien species.

War of the Worlds is widely regarded to be one of Wells’ most impactful works, and the book’s popularity is such that it has never been out of print since it was first published. It chronicles a martian (aliens from mars) invasion of earth: “Across the gulf of space [...] intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

Although the book concerned the otherworldly, the work was deeply influenced by Wells’ life on earth. His acquaintances were shocked when they read in detail how a martian force greatly superior to our own destroyed London and the surrounding countryside. Writing to a former classmate, Wells’ said that he was going to “wreck and sack Woking,” the town where he wrote the book. Today, a model of one of the Aliens’ inventions stands in the city in commemoration of his work.

The book has been adapted into many different forms of media. There is a War of the Worlds version of everything from comic books to television series. There was a recent Hollywood adaptation of War of the Worlds starring Tom Cruise, and Music fans may wish to track down a copy of Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds, an epic rock opera telling of the “painful exodus” from the British capital following the martian invasion.

By far the most notorious adaptation was Orson Welles’ radio play. Presented as a news bulletin, it was so realistic that many of those listening had come to believe that the world really was subject to an alien attack. Those who switched to the channel halfway through the broadcast missed the warning saying that it was fictional. It secured Orson Welles’ career as a dramatist - but led to widespread outrage from newspapers and public figures at the time when it was broadcast in 1938.

A stellar legacy

Wells also wrote popular non-fiction. ‘The Outline of History’ was a bestseller, and prompted a renewed interest in world history in popular culture. His popularity as a writer began to decline where he began writing more about government and politics; he stood for election to the British parliament unsuccessfully in 1922 and 1923.

Wells is remembered today for his substantial output of science fiction writing, but also as a champion for human rights and a better society. He wrote books analysing British life, and established the charity now known as Diabetes UK, one of the largest diabetes charities in the world.