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Anticipations: H. G. Wells, Science Fiction and Radical Visions
A Conference at Woking, 8-10 July 2016
Abstracts * Accommodation * Programme * Registration * Venue and Directions

Saturday 9 July 2016

13.45 Kemp Room
John W. Huntington (The University of Illinois at Chicago)
“Wells, War and Journalism”

In 1903, at the end of the short story, “The Land Ironclads,” Wells with heavy irony describes a fictional war correspondent as being “too good a journalist to spoil his contrast” by praising the humanity of the engineers who invented and operated the military tanks. The fictional “journalist” sacrifices truth for style, yet just a few years later Wells himself would claim to be, not a novelist, but a journalist. The crux is, what are the aims and responsibilities of the Wellsian “journalist?” How does such a writer differ from a novelist? Or from the sensationalist journalist? We see Wells over the decade leading to the First World War developing the voice of a distinct kind of journalism which finds its richest expression in 1914 in the opening months of the war in his collection of eleven short essays entitled The War that Will End War.

In the popular mind, thanks to his reputation as a predictor of the future and thanks to a hasty (mis)understanding of the title of his 1914 collection, Wells is often seen simply as a propagandist for war. [I presume it was this title that caused Virginia Woolf to lump Wells among the “Jingoists” that the Bloomsbury pacifist crowd put down at a rally for the League of Nations in 1918. (Diary, June 17, 1918).] Yet, though the war turned out not to be the short one Wells predicted, that does not mean that the ideas in these essays were foolish. However wrong he may have been about how the war would be performed, Wells had profound insights into the nature and consequences of the war—and of the peace—in the long run.

Essentially, this talk will be a rethinking of a thesis I posed in my 1982 book, The Logic of Fantasy: H.G. Wells and Science Fiction, in which, citing The Land Ironclads as an example of Wells’s later logic, I argued that in the middle of his career Wells abandoned the dialectical mode of thought that characterizes his great early scientific romances. The talk will culminate in a reading of The War That Will End War as a distinct genre, we can call it “journalism”, different to be sure from fiction, but one with its own complex and dramatic form.

Jeremy Withers (Iowa State University)
“War-Bikes: The Other Technological Marvel in ‘The Land Ironclads'”

My presentation will focus on Wells’s recurring interest in his writings in bicycles as an integral part of an effective military fighting force. The talk will take as its centrepiece Wells’s future-warfare story “The Land Ironclads”, a tale famous for its prophesying of the invention of the tank about a decade before such machines became a reality on the battlefields of World War I. However, I argue that Wells depicts bicycles in this story as being every bit as vital as the tank when it comes to military success, and that the sophisticated tank is even portrayed as relying on the “lowly” bicycle for its own effectiveness. While also making brief references to Wells’s speculative nonfiction as well as various letters and editorials that Wells wrote, this presentation places Wells’s thinking about the military capabilities of bicycles in “The Land Ironclads” within its historical moment of the era of the Second Boer War. I will end by discussing how Wells’s interest in the military capabilities of bicycles endures all the way up until the opening stages of World War I, a good 15-20 years after most of his contemporaries have abandoned any kind of support or enthusiasm for the bicycle, and have ceased to see it as kind of technological marvel of the modern era.