The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth by H.G. Wells

March 18, 2010

The Book: The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth by H.G. Wells.  Originally published in1904.  The edition read was published in 1967  by Berkley Highland Books.

The Setting: Britain, mid 19th to early 20th century

The Story: Two scientists invent a substance that makes things grow.  Things start to grow to six or more times their normal size.  Enormous baby chicks prove that it works!  But it gets out of hand and it goes horribly wrong!  18″ wasps!  Rats the size of horses that eat people and horses!  But the scientists and an ass kicking civil engineer wipe out the outbreak, and it’s all good.   But then they feed it to some babies, babies who will grow into adults.  ENORMOUS ADULTS!  And that’s pretty much what happens.  The story continues to trace the effects of the substance over the next 20 odd years.  Conflict ensues as the large and the small just can’t get along.  The story ends on the eve of a war between the Giants and the little people.  THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE THE SAME…

The Science: This book tells the story of Herakelophorbia IV, aka the Food of the Gods, aka Boomfood, from inception to the age of 21.  Boomfood somehow uninhibits the growth process, causing things to grow more and more rapidly than the previous natural order of things.  Everything grows in normal proportions, just really really big.  Moreover, Big things that reproduce have Big babies, so the genetics of the individuals seem to be impacted.  And anything that ingests it becomes dependent on it and will die without continued consumption of the Food throughout the growth period.  Essentially, babies fed it become junkies for the next 18 years.

As far as I know, this couldn’t work.  The human body simply couldn’t sustain that sort of physical strain.  I don’t think.  Individuals over 8 feet tall have massive physical problems, so I can’t imagine that a 40′ human wouldn’t have some kind of, um, growing pains.  But people have always messed with their food supplies on the genetic level.  That’s what domestication is.  And it’s become more explicit now, with growth hormones, genetically modified foods, and targeted breeding.  That’s why grocery store chicken breasts are so unbelievably gigantic.  It’s not a stretch of the imagination to suppose that someone really is working on a way to enlarge food animals, grains, and vegetables to help with the food crisis.  And it’s not out of the realm of possibility that something would go horribly wrong….

The Reaction: Meh.  The structure is sort of weird.  It starts out with a totally normal story arc and then continues with vignettes and episodes 20 years in the future.  At one point the narrator (the unspecified narrator) tells you that one of the two original main characters is leaving the story for good.  And he does!  So the story is fine, the idea is kind of cool, but it’s like Wells kind of hit a wall.  I think there’s a pretty good reason this isn’t one of his better known books.

The Cover: Looking at the cover, I was super excited to read this book.  Giant baby chicks!  A Statue of Liberty impersonator!  Crowds of aimless bystanders!  But alas, there were never even enormous eggs in the book, although there were enormous chicks (though not so enormous as the cover had had me hoping.  And whatever’s going on on the cover never happened in the book.  So, two points for awesome giant baby chicks, no points for accuracy.

Next Up: Short story!  “The Empire of the Ants” by H.G. Wells


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