The Book: In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells. Originally published in 1906. The edition read was published in 1966 by Airmont Publishing Company, Classics Series, CL111.
The Setting: England, early 20th century
The Story: A working class youth, Willie Leadford, resents the world he lives in. Hates that he lost his job, hates that his girl doesn’t love him anymore, hates the upper class, hates pretty much everything. Surprisingly unconcerned with the comet rushing toward Earth. Consumed with his hopelessness, fear, and anger, he resolves to murder the girl and her new lover. And also to buy a new pair of boots. He hunts them down in a seaside resort town, while German and British warships fight just miles off the coast. He pursues them, shooting wildly. The comet hits earth! Green mist appears. Willie passes out.
Willie wakes up. The world is bright and beautiful. Willie see just how small and wrongheaded his previous ambitions were. He wanders off and finds a Very Important Politician in the ditch with a broken ankle. They talk. Goodness, there is so much talking in this book. The politician decides to end all wars, since everyone now understands an apparent universal definition of right and wrong. Where wrong is war and selfishness and right is a kind of complete and utter socialism (real socialism, not screaming news pundit socialism). Willie helps get society back on the right path, then attends to his personal relationships. Apologizes for trying to murder his ex-girlfriend and her lover, but still loves her. He turns from her, deciding that he must sever ties completely to be happy.
Willie still loves her, she still loves him. They discover free love. The end.
The Science: Crap. I mean, there are two kinda sorta scientific things going on here, but mostly this is social fiction, not science fiction.
- The Comet: The comet is headed toward earth! It’s kind of odd – has a weird green band on the spectrum, and weighs very little, so no one is over concerned about its hitting the earth. But when it hits, everyone on earth passes out. Including those driving cars, swimming, etc. People die, but no one much cares when they wake up. According to Willie, the green gases in the comet somehow changed the nitrogen in the atmosphere to a gas that the body processes and makes people very very calm and laid back and big believers in equality. So… yeah.
- The Reader of the Story: This book is in keeping with Wells’ favorite structure – one character relates the story of another. In this one, a mysterious and confused young person arrives in a tower where elderly Willie has just completed authoring his memoirs. “What is this place, and where am I?” he asks. He has no clue. And at the end of the book, the Reader is confused and appalled by the whole “four consenting adults living together in a sexy way” thing. So it suggests that the Reader is either a time traveler from the past or a manifestation of Willie’s dementia (for which we have no other clue). Not really science, but.. hey, it could be time travel! Or something.
The Reaction: One of the reviews on Librarything.com reads: “This was one of those books that I got so far into that I felt compelled to finish. I really should have just stopped reading it when I was going to.” Yeah. I feel the same way. The first book was like a prolonged conversation between a couple of ill informed first year political science majors, one of whom was love lorn. The second and third books were like prolonged conversations between a couple of unimaginative first year philosophy majors. It was boring. It was long. It was, above all, uninteresting (with the exception of a few episodes). Wells was being preachy. Like, really really preachy. Not preachy couched in metaphor or monsters. Just preachy. And I wish he wouldn’t. Finishing the book was an exercise in sticktuitiveness. Not recommended reading.
The Cover: The cover is kind of a hot mess. I asked Mr. Husband what he thought the cover meant: “That a comet would strike the earth, destroying it, forcing people to live underground, and that there was some kind of sinister force behind it.” Yeah, that might have been an interesting story. I can kind of see where the illustrator was coming from with each separate element, but taken together? Very misleading.
Etc: What a way to end my run of H.G. Wells. His earlier work is clearly his best. Maybe if I had read his later novels in Wells’ voice…
Next Up: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ahh… good solid action fun.