The science (and fiction) of H.G. Wells

I’ve enjoyed reading science fiction since I was in about fourth grade. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed even more reading about where science fiction gets it wrong, and where it gets it right. I have two books discussing the science in Star Trek (one on physics, the other on biology), and we enjoyed watching a TV special a few years ago on the science of Stargate SG-1.

Science fiction is often a mix of inventions which remain far in the future (robots that are barely distinguishable from humans, flying cars) and others that have now been far outstripped by reality (think of the size of the modules that had to be removed from HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey, compared to the size of memory and storage modules actually used in this century). I occasionally work on one of my own science fiction story ideas, but then I start wondering how ridiculous some of my ideas might seem within only a decade or two.

One comparison I hadn’t read before is between the ideas of H. G. Wells’ novels and science as we know it today. I have read a few of his books, but had only a vague notion of when he lived. He was born 143 years ago today, I learned from nationalgeographic.com, and pretty much defined the genre of science fiction with his literary output.

Did you know the U.S. military now has a heat-ray gun? It doesn’t kill, or even cause physical harm, but it does produce a burning sensation and can be used to help disperse crowds. Wells envisioned automatic sliding doors, but he got the direction of the movement wrong (he had the door moving up into the ceiling instead of sideways into the walls).

It may not have taken a visionary to predict attempts to combine features of different animals, though Wells could not have imagined the mechanics of genetic engineering. People have been cross-breeding animals and plants for ages, within the limits of their technological abilities. Going beyond those limits waited only on the necessary scientific discoveries.

Time travel remains one of the most intriguing (to me) plot enablers in science fiction. The linked article quotes a physics professor who states that time travel has not actually been proven impossible, contrary to what many physicists claim. Since most time travel stories I have read deal with the problems created by time travel, rather than the opportunities such travel would create, I rather hope that the “many physicists” are correct.

One Response to The science (and fiction) of H.G. Wells

  1. renaissanceguy says:

    As a teenager I devoured the books of H. G. Wells, among others. I found him as interesting and exciting as any of the more contemporary sci-fi writers.

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