The Easy Way Out

I don’t want to hear anyone criticize H.G. Wells.  The man was a genius.  Some of his later stuff was a bit odd, but he’s still a genius.

One danger in writing science fiction is that, given time, science will advance and your story will become laughable.  Wells found a way around this problem: he had his narrators proclaim their own ignorance.

For example, in The War of the Worlds (at the beginning of Chapter 6), the unnamed protagonist/narrator offers some explanation as to how the Martian death ray might work:

Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense heat in a chamber of practically absolute non-conductivity.  This intense heat they project in a parallel beam against any object they choose by means of a polished parabolic mirror of unknown composition, much as the parabolic mirror of a light-house projects a beam of light.  But no one has absolutely proved these details.

This is a good trick.  It’s also a cheap trick, but I won’t criticize H.G. Wells for using it.  He clearly did his research and presented a plausible explanation of how this weapon could work.  In a society that’s never heard of lasers, it makes sense.  For readers today familiar with modern science… well, the main character never claimed to be an expert.

Also, let’s give Mr. Wells a big round of applause for inventing the laser gun in 1898, even if the technical details were a little off.

Sources

Aldiss, Brian W.  “H.G. Wells.”  Science Fiction Writers.  Ed. E.F. Bleiler.  NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1982.  Pages 25-30.

Wells, H.G.  The War of the Worlds.  Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997.

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