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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

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