Herbert George Wells is best known by his initials HG and as the author of the science fiction classics The Time Machine, The Invisible Man and TheWar of the Worlds, but their success and their impact on popular culture has overshadowed his even more prescient work.
While the BBC’s The War of the Worlds begins this month, starring Rafe Spall and Poldark’s Eleanor Tomlinson, The Shape of Things to Come festival in Folkestone is digging deeper into his legacy, looking at many of the issues facing the world today from the perspective of a writer at the turn of the 20th century.
“Wells was ahead of his time in his thinking about how we should, indeed must, live on this planet,” says one of the festival’s curators, Liam Browne. “He wrote: ‘History is a race between education and catastrophe’, and his thinking leads directly to today’s activists such as Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.”
Co-curator Seán Doran adds: “It is remarkable, at times very chilling, to reacquaint ourselves with Wells’ prognostications in the lead-up to the two world wars of the 20th century and recognise how relevant and resonant they are to our lives in today’s world. ‘Our true nationality is mankind,’ he said. It doesn’t require explanation yet says everything about being human.”
The speakers at the festival are riffing on how Wells’ ideas relate to our times. Here are what they think he had to say about the shape of things to come.
“So many of his ideas have come to pass, I hope that his The Rights of Man, that formed the basis for the UN Declaration of Human Rights, will be better upheld by future societies.”
Gaia Vince, science and environmental journalist