The Days of the Comet
By H. G. Wells
Published by LibriVox
Read by Various
After suffering through Verne’s Off on a Comet and its utter lack of scientific thoughtfulness (quite out of character for Verne, but everyone has an off day, I guess) a while back I thought it might be interesting to see how H.G. Wells handled similar subject matter. It turns out that Verne with his comet made of gold was actually more realistic. Hard to believe, right?
First of all, Wells was apparently not at all interested in science when he wrote the book. His comet has tails both headed toward and away from the sun, a situation never observed and even he wrote that it was unique. It is also green. I am willing to let the notion of a green comet pass although given how dim comets actually are, I have trouble believing one could appear green to the naked eye as this one does. He also conjectures an orbital path that will cause the comet to strike the earth (much as Verne does), possibly because back then writing a story about people worried such a thing might happen and then having to deal with the consequences when it misses was unthinkable? This is as far as Wells scientific thought goes in this book. It is NOT Science Fiction.
Instead, what Wells wrote here is a long article praising the virtues of Socialism. Well he was hardly alone in his views of Socialism at that time, even his main character (in the early dark days before the comet) twice tells people that he is a Socialist only to have them shrug and reply “Who isn’t?” This was also written before there were any functioning Socialist nations, so all he had to go on were the glowing arguments of Marx and Engels and the dream of a condition in which all men (and maybe the women too) would be equal regardless of the conditions of their births and so forth. And then the comets strikes.
It is unclear where the comet strikes, really, as there doesn’t appear to be any damage in the world afterwards. What does happen is that suddenly a green mist fills the atmosphere which changes everyone on Earth, causing them to think more clearly than ever before, and therefore they all turn to Socialism as the only natural way to run the world.
Does any of this make sense? Well, no, not in the Twenty-first Century. It would not even make a lot of sense in 1950 after learning from George Orwell that some animals are more equal than others and that Big brother has his eyes on us all. But I suppose at the time Wells was writing, it all sounded really good to him.
Wells is not the only author to use the trappings of science fiction to write a politically utopian story – not by a long shot – but in spite of being able to use the writer’s prerogative of having all his characters there to agree with and prove his assertions, the story is weak and the arguments are weaker.
He attempted to add some tension with his main character losing his fiancée to a young and rich nobleman – apparently she preferred to be the noble’s mistress to being the main character’s wife (given the character I might have agreed) but the woman is a bit of a bimbo as well, I am sorry to say, since later on she comes back asking “Why can’t I have you both?” proposing a romantic triangle neither man is ready to accept until sometime later when the main character finds a wife at which time both couples find it agreeable to join as a single unit.
In all, I found the situations hard to swallow, inconsistent and poorly reasoned throughout the book. The story itself is thin and uninteresting and the diatribe in favor of Socialism is written with the subtlety of Hercules with a sledge hammer.
Don’t believe me? Read it for yourself, but don’t say I did not warn you.
Like some many LibriVox recordings, there were several readers who read with varying degrees of ability, but all in all, I thought they did fairly well. As usual, they were not the actors one finds in one of the slick, commercial audiobooks, but each one tried to read in a manner consistent with the mood of the book and, by and large, they succeeded.
Once again, I want to praise LibriVox for their volunteer-made productions of public domain books., There are some real gems among them and it is my great delight when I listen to those. LibriVox is bringing a lot of older stories to light in the form of audiobooks even as Project Guttenberg has preserved the texts, so if sometimes I do not enjoy the book I am listening to, I can still commend LibriVox for bringing it to me.
So to sum it all up, unless you like reading Socialist propaganda, I recommend giving this one a miss. For the student of Twentieth Century history, it may be of some interest, once again for the praises of socialist theory and how some believed it would turn out when put into practice, but do not look hear for an early form of science fiction. There is nothing of science to the story save badly biased political science. On the other hand some of the LIbriVox volunteers did make the experience less painful than it might have been.