I’ve got a strange pantheon of heroes, not just scientists and science-fiction writers – but also poets, mad-philosophers, artistes and engineers – but HG Welles has been right up near the top for me from very early days – not only because he was brilliant, prophetic and deeply compassionate (and single-handedly invented war-gaming) – but also because he found extremely fun-to-read ways to say things that were very hard for people to hear at the time.
I much admire the very particular balance of the Simpsons (during glory days with Conan O’Brien powering the writer’s room). They put extremely perceptive insights about American politics into Lisa’s mouth, and as long as they followed that spiel with a Homer prat-fall – everybody was happy! Rare synthesis.
What Dickens did for humanizing the poor (turning them from ‘the misbegotten’ into ‘the unfortunates’) – Welles might be said to have done for challenging the common democratic citizenry to responsibly consider the future (extending the tradition, one must acknowledge, of the brilliant Jules Verne).
When Verne treated a dystopia (as he did in his hilariously-youthful rejected novel – Paris in the twentieth century). He had union-men cutting power to concerts one minute past their allotted time, supervisor-supervisors – a creepily familiar nightmare of stifling bureaucracy. Emotionally, a stirring call to the teenage spirit of proletarian revolt – even though his tone was very ‘aspirational.’
But Welles, who became the first great master of the dystopian genre, takes the approach I favour – not just rebel from-what – but TO-what? Psychology has long recognized that there is little to be gained by destroying a load-bearing idea – even if delusional, until something equally robust has not just been offered, but also taken out for a spin and accepted for purpose.
Since we can expect the madmen to keep being madmen (long precedent for such idiots occupying most castle-like structures) what are the rest of us, who they are trying to bully, manipulate, scare and squeeze, going to do about it?
In “The Time Machine” – Welles has his protagonist travel to a distant future populated by two classes of humans. The worker grunt Morlocks, stuck living out their days in the grim lightless soot-tinged under-city, who did all the work, and the cheerful and charming Eloi, who did nothing but frolic and play happily in a manicured topside park, except that is, when they were being hunted down by Morlocks for food!
Of course we are horrified by such a dichotomy, and again challenged to revolt – but this time it’s from BOTH joylessness and impracticality. Ultra-rare synthesis!
I’ve already mentioned my nostalgia for Marxist feminists a few times – that used to be the place I could go where I knew we weren’t just thinking about equal shares of the same shit-pie, but justice – including for those in far-off places, who we are now casually harming in ways so grotesque, it hurts the caring soul, deeply. (Maybe there is an objective reason so many of us Eloi are depressed!)
We’ve lost sight of this, but we aren’t the point, folks – those to come are – always! And yes, our great grandchildren actually do have more of a right to a forest, than we do to burn dead dinosaurs, obtained through the bayonet-imposed denial of political rights to many millions for a full century and counting. D’oh!