Ever had one of those things you’ve done in your life where you think back about it and shudder? Like a moment where you were so petty, so selfish, so cruel that you keep it locked down and try not to remember it.
What if the world had thoughts like that, where it would look back and all its bloodshed and religious strife and economic crimes and colonization and collectively wince at itself? It seems amazing, when you think about it, that some people sleep in innocence in mansions while homeless children live in cars.
That’s pretty much the course of things in In the days of the Comet, a 1906 H.G. Wells classic about an angry young man growing up in the shitheap of middle England, in a slaggy industrial environment as a junior clerk (until he quits). Locally, there is more pettiness, grime and despair that the reader can stomach. And internationally? Nations, it seems, are just like people. America’s economic dumping is throwing England into recession and Germany is making its new dreadnought ready for sea, clearly to provoke. Willie, our protagonist, is (as he later reflects) “ill clothed, ill fed, ill housed, ill educated and ill trained”. Almost beyond the notice of the despair cloaking the world, a green comet is nearing our planet.
Personally, I enjoy the first part of the book more. As a baffled-by-how-it-could-work socialist, I see Well’s world in ours every day. How I identify with Willie, denied in every way, pissed that his lover has rejected him for the rich mill-owner’s son. So he purchases a revolver. He plans to catch up to the happy couple at the sea-side cottage where they have eloped. He loads his gun, he stalks closer, they see him on the beach at night, they run. He raises the gun. Off shore, the British and German navies begin to bombard each other. And suddenly the comet strikes our atmosphere.
And whatever that chemical we were lacking, that gas that makes us reasonable and logical and compassionate and true, whatever it was, it floods our world.
It’s depressing that it takes an external source to bring humanity to the point it should naturally come to (just as it’s depressing that the movie Serenity had that same sort of gas (injected by the evil federal forces) turn the planet Miranda stark raving zombie-bonkers). But still, the idea of politicians sitting in stunned disbelief of how they’d squandered the trust given them, of each individual marking his misdeeds, of the world tearing down its ugliness and literally rebuilding itself into a better place, well, it’s a comforting thought. Someday, perhaps.
It’s interesting, the final point Wells makes about love, where the two couples love each other but the old rules (that of iron-clad man-woman relationships) is coolly examined and casually rejected. Shocking then and still strange now (in a world where gays cannot marry or even have the same rights as other couples). One can read this and wonder why that is so – why can’t one have a casual sexual relationship (with no more meaning than a lunch date) with another adult? What in these thousands of years of empty rhetoric that prevents it? Funny to find out that we think we live in an open, hedonistic society and yet, in ways, it’s just re-branded Victorianism.
Nuf said. I liked it, I recommend it, have a look. Shake the grit from your hands and reach for the skies…