Cantina Quote o’ the Week: H.G. Wells


What on earth would we do with ourselves if something did not stand in our way?

-H.G. Wells

I trust I don’t have to tell you who H.G. Wells is. One of the fathers of science fiction? Bloke who wrote that War of the Worlds book that got turned into a radio drama by Orson Welles and led to a lot of people panicking because they were unclear on the concept of fiction. 

These words of his are some of my favorites, because they are true. It might seem like everything would be wonderful if there were no obstacles in our path, but that way lies boredom. Good thing every life has its obstacles, then. As long as they’re not insurmountable, we can give our minds quite a lot of exercise figuring out how to get round them.

I think if nothing stood in our way, we’d probably put something there, just so we’d have something to contend with. We are a contentious species. And we like to prove we’re clever. Though, as the panic over a radio show proved, we’re not quite as clever as we like to believe…

Comments

  1. paulhavlak says

    Considering that Wells for a long time supported eugenics, I shudder to think.

    (By 1940, at least, he seems to have favored a more generous notion of human rights.)

  2. says

    ‘Things To Come’ is a real hoot too, both book and movie, though they bear little resemblance to each other!

    Favorite Sagan quote: “I like to keep an open mind, just not so open that my brain falls out.”

  3. machintelligence says

    I think if nothing stood in our way, we’d probably put something there, just so we’d have something to contend with

    Hence extreme sports.

  4. Trebuchet says

    “War of the Worlds” is still, as far as I remember, the only book ever to give me nightmares.

    Also, what would we do if we ourselves didn’t put obstacles in our way? We’d be awesome. Or something.

  5. moarscienceplz says

    a lot of people panicking because they were unclear on the concept of fiction.

    To be fair, there probably weren’t as many people panicking as the legend would have you believe, plus Orson Welles did his best to make it seem like a real news report. From Wikipedia:

    Later studies indicate that many missed the repeated notices about the broadcast being fictional, partly because The Mercury Theatre on the Air, an unsponsored cultural program with a relatively small audience, ran at the same time as the NBC Red Network’s popular Chase and Sanborn Hour. About 15 minutes into Chase and Sanborn, the first comic sketch ended and a musical number began, and many listeners began tuning around the dial at that point. According to the American Experience program The Battle Over Citizen Kane, Welles knew the schedule of Chase and Sanborn and scheduled the first report from Grover’s Mill at the 12-minute mark to heighten the audience’s confusion. As a result, some listeners happened upon the CBS broadcast at the point the Martians emerge from their spacecraft. Because the broadcast was unsponsored, Welles and company could schedule breaks at will rather than structuring them around necessary advertisements. As a result, the only notices that the broadcast was fictional came at the start of the broadcast and about 40 and 55 minutes into it.
    A study by the Radio Project discovered that some who panicked presumed that Germans, not Martians, had invaded.[11]
    “The shadow of war was constantly in and on the air. People were on edge”, wrote Welles biographer Frank Brady.

  6. A Hermit says

    I have the War of the World’s rock opera (by Jeff Wayne, narrated by Richard Burton) on vinyl. Yes, I was a SciFi nerd in my youth…

    • aziraphale says

      I have the CD. I still feel the need to listen to the opening from time to time – it makes the hairs on my neck stand on end. I only wish he had left Wells’s first paragraph unaltered.

  7. rq says

    War of the Worlds was one of the first Classic sci-fi books I ever read, and, for a long time, the only one by HG Wells. It still remains a favourite, and the Tom Cruise movie did little to do the book or the story justice, besides add a lot of pretty awesome special effects. I always linked this book in my head to the Tripod trilogy, I suppose a version of the Martians winning. I still link any kind of alien invasion story with giant walking tripods – everything else is a disappointment, no matter how many laser guns it may have. ;)
    Thanks for the youtube links, love it.

    As for the quote, once again, it rings reminiscent of one I’ve had on file for a while (but, again, with a somewhat contrary meaning):

    “Who knows whether, if I had given up smoking, I should really have become the strong perfect man I imagined? Perhaps it was this very doubt that bound me to my vice, because life is so much pleasanter if one is able to believe in one’s own latent greatness.”

    (Italo Svevo)

    Your sources, Dana, are much cooler than mine, though!

  8. aziraphale says

    Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason expresses a similar idea:

    “The light dove, in free flight cutting through the air the resistance of which it feels, could get the idea that it could do even better in airless space.”