Authors > 5 things you didn’t know about H.G. Wells
In his scientific romance The World Set Free, published in 1914, Wells describes a world war like the one that broke out a few months later, but he adds an ingredient that the real world wouldn’t catch up with for another thirty years – atomic bombs. He had got the idea from reading a book called The Interpretation of Radium by Frederick Soddy. Although Wells’s A-bombs weren’t as devastating as the real thing, they inspired the physicist Leo Szilard to conceive of the nuclear chain reaction which eventually made the real bombs possible. Knowing the likely consequences from Wells’s book, Szilard kept his patent from public view, only activating it when he feared that the Nazis might produce the bomb first.
That’s him near the top right, between Marx and someone who’s a dead ringer for the Mona Lisa but turns out to be an Indian guru favoured by George Harrison. Many of the iconic figures in the picture were chosen by the cover designers, but at least one of the Beatles may have been familiar with Wells’s stories. In 2009 Yoko Ono told a magazine: “John and I felt that we were like people in an H.G. Wells story, two people who are walking so fast that nobody else can see them,” a reference to Wells’s 1901 short story ‘The New Accelerator.’
In 1901 Wells wrote of “a Federal Europe” centred on the Rhine, which might emerge by the start of the twenty-first century. He noted that German reluctance to join up might lead to a series of wars before the union could be achieved. He also predicted that the British would be reluctant to enrol in this French-dominated body, seeing themselves more as part of the English-speaking world, which by that time would be led by the USA.
Wells wrote two books based on the games of toy soldiers that he played with his children – when, that is, he wasn’t playing with his friends – Floor Games (1912) and Little Wars (1913). The latter contains a detailed discussion of rules, which has led to Wells being described as the father of modern war gaming.
Wells was diagnosed in 1931 as a mild type two diabetic. Three years later he became the co-founder, with his physician R.D. Lawrence, of the British Diabetic Association, now known as Diabetes UK. As its first president, he chaired meetings, drummed up support and raised money for a holiday home for deprived diabetic children. In 2015 the Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group launched an ‘H.G. Wells Project’ to develop an integrated model of diabetes care. Wells also put his fame to good use as founding vice-president of the National Birth Control Council, now known as the Family Planning Association, and as a leading advocate of human rights.
MICHAEL SHERBORNE is the former editor of The Wellsian, chairman of the H.G. Wells Society and author of the critically acclaimed biography of H.G. Wells, Another Kind of Life. He has also contributed introductions to two of H.G. Wells lesser known novels, Christina Alberta’s Father and Mr Blettsworthy on Rampole Island both of which are published by Peter Owen Publishers.
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