Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Comets And Strange Spaces

(Coincidence: while mentally drafting this article referring to comets in Wells and Verne and to Brain Wave by Poul Anderson, I read the following sentence in another work by Anderson:

("Yes, we have to ride the comet..." (1) )

I do not currently plan to reread In The Days Of The Comet by HG Wells so I am relying on memories from a single reading decades ago (Addendum: However, see here.) (But I have a good reason to mention it here.) First, the title is misleading. It suggests maybe a comet causing alarm by passing near the Earth if not also causing damage by hitting the Earth?

(Parenthetically, I have yet to read Jules Verne's bizarre but fascinating-sounding account of people ascending by balloon (?) to join a comet for a trip around the Solar System, then returning safely to Earth (Addendum: However, see here), but I think I remember it from a Classics Illustrated comic book adaptation.) (The googled comic book cover seems to confirm the balloon.)

Wells' novel is not really about a comet. The comet serves only to introduce into the terrestrial atmosphere a gas or vapor that affects human brains, enabling them to harmonize reason and emotion. Thus, two men still love the same woman but they now openly and honestly compete for her instead of trying to do each other down. And, in the new world after the Comet, she has relationships with both of them.

Global psychological harmonization enables everyone to cooperate in rebuilding society on a rational and humane basis: a revolution but from within each psyche, not resulting from external conflicts. Unfortunately, highly implausible. Let's imagine that the entire galaxy enters a space where all beings are enlightened like the Buddha...

Wells fails in one respect. Before the Comet, his central character argues with a dogmatic and unsympathetic clergyman but, after the Comet, Wells does not show us the changed clergyman.

Science fiction writers imagine external changes of location (to the Moon, from Mars) or of technology (aircraft, spacecraft) etc but rarely internal changes like this psychological revolution which brings us to Poul Anderson's first novel, Brain Wave, which I am just about to reread. Earth enters a space where everyone's intelligence is enhanced, enabling them to cooperate in rebuilding society on a rational and humane basis...

It is a truism that sf writers follow Wells but here is perhaps a less recognized example.

(1) Anderson, Poul, Starfarers, New York, 1999, p. 464.

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