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First edition dust jacket
|Author||H. G. Wells|
|This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (July 2014)|
First edition dust jacket
|Author||H. G. Wells|
The Shape of Things to Come is a work of science fiction by H. G. Wells, published in 1933, which speculates on future events from 1933 until the year 2106. In the book, a world state is established as the solution to humanity's problems.
As a frame story, Wells claims that the book is his edited version of notes written by an eminent diplomat, Dr Philip Raven, who had been having dream visions of a history textbook published in 2106 and wrote down what he could remember of it. It is split into five separate sections or "books":
The Shape of Things to Come was written as a future history. Seen in retrospect, it can be considered as an alternate history, diverging from reality in late 1933 or early 1934, the point of divergence being US President Franklin D. Roosevelt's failure to implement the New Deal and revive the US economy and Adolf Hitler's failure to revive the German economy by rearmament. Instead, the worldwide economic crisis continues for thirty years, concurrently with the war, as described above.
Wells predicted a Second World War breaking out with a European conflagration from the flashpoint of a violent clash between Germans and Poles at Danzig. Wells set the date for this as January 1940. Poland proves a military match for Nazi Germany and they engage in an inconclusive war lasting ten years. More countries are eventually dragged into the fighting, but France and the Soviet Union are only marginally involved, Britain remains neutral, and the United States fights inconclusively with Japan. The Austrian Anschluss happens during, rather than before, the war. Czechoslovakia avoids German occupation and its president, Edvard Beneš, survives to initiate the final "Suspension of Hostilities" in 1950. The war ends with no victor but total exhaustion, collapse and disintegration of all the fighting states and of the neutral countries, equally affected by the deepening economic crisis. The whole world descends into chaos: nearly all governments break down, and a devastating plague in 1956 and 1957 kills a large part of humanity and almost destroys civilisation.
Wells then envisages a benevolent dictatorship, "The Dictatorship of the Air", arising from the controllers of the world's surviving transport systems, who are the only people with global power. This dictatorship promotes science, enforces Basic English as a global lingua franca and eradicates all religions, setting the world on the road to a peaceful utopia. When the dictatorship chooses to murder a subject, the condemned person is given a chance to take a poison tablet.
Eventually, after about 100 years of reshaping humanity, the dictatorship is overthrown in a completely bloodless coup, the former rulers are sent into a very honourable retirement, and the world state "withers away". The last part of the book is a detailed description of the utopian world that emerges. The ultimate aim of this utopian world is to produce a world society composed entirely of polymaths, each and every one of its members the intellectual equal of the greatest geniuses of the past.
One of the major aspects of the creation of the World State is the abolition of all organised religion—an act deemed indispensable to give the emerging "Modern State" a monopoly over education and the complete ability to mould new generations of humanity.
The abolition of Islam is carried out by the Air Police, who "descend upon Mecca and close down the main holy places", apparently without major incident. Eventually, Islam disappears, its demise accelerated by the decay of Arabic and its replacement by "an expanded English". Some twenty mosques survive, deemed to be worthy of preservation on architectural grounds. The Lebanese-American scholar George Nasser remarked on this aspect of Wells' book: "In the 1979 imagined by H. G. Wells, a self-appointed ruling elite composed mainly of Westerners, with one Chinese and one Black African and not a single Arab member, would establish itself in the Arab and Muslim city of Basra and calmly take the decision to completely extinguish and extirpate the Muslim religion.... In the 1979 of real history, Khomeini's Islamic Republic of Iran came into being".
The most prolonged and formidable religious opposition envisaged by Wells is from the Catholic Church (there is little reference to Protestants). The Pope and the entire Catholic hierarchy are gassed unconscious when blessing the new aircraft built by a revived Fascist Italy. After the Catholic Church is decisively crushed in Italy, it finds refuge in Ireland, "the last bastion of Christianity". Ireland is also subdued, and then Catholic resistance is maintained only in Latin America, under "a coloured Pope in Pernambuco", until it too is finally put down.
Wells gives considerable attention to the fate of the Jews. In this history, an enfeebled Nazi Germany is incapable of systematic murder on the scale of the Holocaust. However, Jews greatly suffer from "unorganized" persecution, and there is a reference to anti-Jewish pogroms happening "everywhere in Europe" during the chaotic 1950s. Then, in a world where all nation-states are a doomed anachronism, Zionism and its ambition to create a new state come to naught. In the later struggle between the emerging world state and its opponents, Jews are seen as caught between the hammer and the anvil. Following the launch of its antireligious campaign, the Modern State closes down all kosher butcheries still in operation, while the opening act of the "Federated Nationalist" rebels opposing this state is to perpetrate a pogrom against Jews in the Frankfurt area. Eventually, in Wells's vision, it is the Modern State's forced assimilation that triumphs and the Jews, who had resisted earlier such pressures, become completely absorbed in the general society and lose their separate identity.
Wells loosely adapted the novel for the screenplay of the film Things to Come, produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies, and released in 1936. It also takes elements from Wells's non-fiction book The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1931). The film stars Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke and Margaretta Scott.
H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come is a Canadian science fiction motion picture first released in May 1979. Although credited to H. G. Wells, the film takes only its title and some character names from the original source material. The film's plot has no relationship to the events of the book. The film was an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of such recent successes as Star Wars, and TV series such as Space: 1999 and Battlestar Galactica, although the film had only a fraction of the production budget of any of these.
Theodore Wein pointed out that "Wells' "Things to Come" was at its most influential in the six years between its publication and the moment when the course of its predicted war was overtaken and overshadowed by the actual fast unfolding events of the Second World War. These same years of the 1930s were the time of incubation for the people who were destined to become the greatest names in Science Fiction, the time when they read ravenously any SF on which they could lay their hands and started to formulate their own ideas. It is not surprising that traces of "Things to Come" are clearly visible in what they wrote in the 1940s and 1950s.
Wells, taking his cue from Karl Marx, depicted the genius European social scientist Gustave De Windt sitting down at the British Museum Library and setting out the precise blueprint for a transformation of the world which he would not live to see. Isaac Asimov's Hari Seldon was in effect a Gustave de Windt enlarged to a galactic stature, and the reunification of the shattered galaxy on which the First and Second Foundations were launched constituted Wells' Modern State written very large....
The British Wells had the planes of the emerging World State overfly Washington, D.C. and set at naught the President's authority. A decade later, the American Robert Heinlein wrote Solution Unsatisfactory in whose plot planes of the International Patrol do virtually the same. Later on, Heinlein upgraded the International Patrol into an Interplanetary Patrol, a self-appointed elite of highly motivated and rather puritanical spacemen reminiscent of those enforcing Wells' "Dictatorship of the Air".
Wells depicted "Federated Nationalists" who had banded together only so that they could fly at each other's throats once they had smashed the budding world government. Poul Anderson in his early future history, the Psychotechnic League, depicted precisely the same kind of Nationalists violently opposing the United Nations' efforts to make itself a true world government and rebuild the war-torn world."