Wells' Dystopian Vision

The Sleeper Awakes - H.G. Wells

When I started reading Jules Verne a number of years back I became increasingly interested in some of these pioneers of the science-fiction genre, and while many of us have heard of Wells' more well known books, after digging around the internet I discovered that there were quite a few other books that he had written that I was particularly interested in, especially the ones where he writes about the possibility of flight and how disruptive a technology it would become. Okay, [book:The War in the Air] is still sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, however since it had been a while since I had read a Wells book I decided to grab this one.


Sure, I knew a little about this book – namely a man went to sleep and woke up two hundred years in the future to discover that, not surprisingly, everything had changed. I guess the thing that attracted me to this book was what Wells' vision of the future would be. Mind you, it is not his only foray into this speculative realm, since he also does it in The Time Machine and The Shape of Things to Come. Still, I do have this interest to try and see how visionary Wells, and other writers, really were.


As it turns it – quite so. In fact this book reads very much like the more famous dystopian visions of our age, such as 1984 and A Brave New World. In fact there are quite a few things in this book that as I was reading it made me wonder if he had actually had a crystal ball and looked into the 20th Century. For instance we have the working class who earn only enough to make it from day to day, which seems to be where the working class of this era is quickly heading, while the wealthy are able to spend their lives in pleasure domes and when they either get board, or run out of money, they can then euthanise themselves. What is also quite interesting is how the working classes are kept in line through something that is reminiscent of modern television, or even the internet – otherwise known as 'The Babble'.


The story goes that Graham suffers from insomnia, so he undergoes a treatment that allows him to sleep. Unfortunately he oversleeps – by a long shot. It sort of reminds me of Ash in the alternate ending of Armies of Darkness (which I actually saw once, and was really annoyed when I bought the DVD and it didn't include it in the special features, not that the DVD actually had any special features).


Armies of Darkness Image


As it turns out, Graham has become some sort of legend – the sleeper – namely because when he went to sleep he had some money saved in the bank, but over two hundred years it grew thanks to compound interest, to the point where he had so much that he could literally buy everything on the Earth. Okay, he didn't do that, namely because he was asleep, however a trust was appointed to look after this money, and as the money grew they used to to pretty much take control of the world. However, they didn't count on him waking up, so they decided to lock him up, which doesn't get them far because he escapes and meets a chap named Ostrog who, with Graham's help, overthrows the trustees (which are now known as The White Council), installs Graham as a figure head, and takes control of the world.


Mind you, he doesn't last all that long because the people once again revolt, but I won't spoil the ending by saying any more. However, what I will mention is this idea of money compounding over hundreds of years. In fact Futurama did an episode where Fry had discovered that he was broke, however remembered that he had some money in a bank account – a measley 93c, back in 2000, and decided to see if he could withdraw some, only to discover that he was now a billionaire. That started me thinking, so I found a compound interest calculator on the internet, plugged in the numbers, and low and behold:

Fry's Bank Account


For those unable to read it the figure comes to just under nine billion dollars (at 2.3% interest a year).


Anyway, I could probably write a lot more on some of the ideas that came out of this book, however I might leave it for a blog post down the track, particularly since there is actually a lot I could write. However, I should mention that it is interesting how people like Wells viewed the future, particularly since prior to him writers never actually seemed to be all that concerned with speculating as to how society would turn out – rather they seemed to write about society as it was then, and while writers like [author:Bentham], [author:Marx], and [author:Rousseau] did write social commentaries, they only did so to address the problems that faced society at the time as opposed to attempting to predict what would come to pass in the future. What we have with authors such as Verne and Wells is the idea to not look at society now, but where society is heading, both technologically and socially.


Some might suggest that it was because the world was starting to see a rapid change with technology, but technology had been progressing for hundreds of years. However, it could also have a lot to do with industrialisation because what was happening was that the traditional agrarian society was suddenly being disrupted. Up until that time a bulk of the population lived in the country and cities only existed as centres of trade and administration. Industrialisation not only meant that more could be made quicker, and cheaper, but also labour was needed where the factories were as opposed to where the farms were – and the factories tended to be located near the coast, which is where a bulk of the cities existed, and grew. Even in Wells' age society went from travelling as fast as a horse could run, or the wind blow, to travelling as fast as an engine could spin its wheels – in fact the world was changing right before their eyes as the internal combustion engine first made sailing ships obsolete, and then the good old horse and buggy.


Yet writers such as Wells, and later Orwell, could see a dark side to progress, as they both portrayed in books that are remarkably similar. However, by the time Orwell was writing 1984 a new technology was appearing in the form of the television, which had built upon the foundations of film and radio before that, and television ushered in a new age of thought-control through what is know known as the mass media.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1691627794