Wells, Herbert George

(1866-1946)

English writer whose science fiction stories played an important role in
influencing popular conceptions of the nature of extraterrestrial life.
The first novelist of his genre to receive a thorough scientific
education, he held a bachelor’s degree from the Normal School of Science
(later renamed the Royal College of Science) in London, and had been
tutored by none other than the biologist Thomas HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/H/Huxley.html» Huxley ,
famed for his epic public encounter with the creationist Bishop Samuel
(«Soapy Sam») Wilberforce at Oxford in 1860. Huxley had been a close
friend of Charles HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/D/DarwinC.html» Darwin .
Now, following Charles’s death in 1882-the year that Wells first began
attending Huxley’s lectures-he was the new chief standard-bearer for
Darwinism. Wells, therefore, could not have found a better teacher from
whom to learn about the theory of evolution and all that it implied.

For Wells, as for his contemporaries, evolutionary theory was at the hub
of biological thinking. It dominated much of what he wrote, both in the
form of fiction and science journalism. In essay after essay, especially
in his first decade of professional writing from 1887 to 1896, he
attacked the traditional anthropocentric viewpoint that man was somehow
special and that nature was teleologically oriented toward our species.
What was Homo sapiens but just another, accidental episode in the
panoramic sweep of history? That was Wells’s fundamental premise, and
from it he went on to contemplate the precariousness of man’s tenure on
Earth. In an early piece, «Zoological Regression,» he writes:

There is . . . no guarantee in scientific knowledge of man’s permanence
or permanent ascendancy. . . . [I]t may be that . . . Nature is, in
unsuspected obscurity, equipping some now humble creature . . . to rise
in the fullness of time and sweep homo away . . . The Coming Beast must
certainly be reckoned in any anticipatory calculations regarding the
Coming Man.

But the threat to humankind, Wells realized, might come not only from
some lower species which subsequently evolved to take our place. In The
Time Machine, the «Coming Beast» is man himself, or at least a bestial
form of Homo that, in the far future, has diverged from a gentler,
feebler strain of humanity that represents the other extreme end-point
of our development. Then again, perhaps the challenge to humanity would
come from beyond the Earth and from a creature that was our intellectual
superior.

On April 4, 1896, Wells’s article «Intelligence on Mars» appeared in the
Saturday Review. It begins by referring to a «luminous projection on the
southern edge of the planet» seen by Javelle at Nice. The report of
Javelle’s sighting in Nature, some eighteen months earlier, had led to a
flurry of speculation that the light was an attempt by Martians to
signal to us (see HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/M/Marschanges.html» Mars,
changes on ). Wells went on in his article to ask what sentient life on
Mars might be like. He was scornful of earlier suggestions that the
inhabitants might resemble ourselves.

No phase of anthropomorphism is more naive than the supposition of men
on Mars. The place of such a conception in the world of thought is with
the anthropomorphic cosmogonies and religions invented by the childish
conceit of primitive man.

The Martians, he concluded, «would be different from the creatures of
earth, in form and function, in structure and in habit, different beyond
the most bizarre imaginings of nightmare.» A year later, he gave full
reign to such speculation in HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/W/WarofWorldsnovel.html» The
War of the Worlds .

Wells further explored the variety of forms that extraterrestrials might
take in his writings on HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/S/siliconlife.html»
silicon-based life and his 1901 novel HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/F/FirstMen.html» The First
Men in the Moon .

See also HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/S/SFpre1900.html» science
fiction involving extraterrestrials, before 1900 ; HYPERLINK
«http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/S/SF19001940.html» science
fiction involving extraterrestrials, 1900-1940 .

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