The World Set Free: A Fantasia of the Future, by H.G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Leblanc was one of those ingenuous men whose lot would have been insignificant in any period of security, but who have been caught up to an immortal role in history by the sudden simplification of human affairs through some tragical crisis, to the measure of their simplicity. Such a man was Abraham Lincoln, and such was Garibaldi. And Leblanc, with his transparent childish innocence, his entire self-forgetfulness, came into this confusion of distrust and intricate disaster with an invincible appeal for the manifest sanities of the situation. His voice, when he spoke, was ‘full of remonstrance.’ He was a little bald, spectacled man, inspired by that intellectual idealism which has been one of the peculiar gifts of France to humanity. He was possessed of one clear persuasion, that war must end, and that the only way to end war was to have but one government for mankind. He brushed aside all other considerations. At the very outbreak of the war, so soon as the two capitals of the belligerents had been wrecked, he went to the president in the White House with this proposal. He made it as if it was a matter of course. He was fortunate to be in Washington and in touch with that gigantic childishness which was the characteristic of the American imagination. For the Americans also were among the simple peoples by whom the world was saved. He won over the American president and the American government to his general ideas; at any rate they supported him sufficiently to give him a standing with the more sceptical European governments, and with this backing he set to work — it seemed the most fantastic of enterprises — to bring together all the rulers of the world and unify them. He wrote innumerable letters, he sent messages, he went desperate journeys, he enlisted whatever support he could find; no one was too humble for an ally or too obstinate for his advances; through the terrible autumn of the last wars this persistent little visionary in spectacles must have seemed rather like a hopeful canary twittering during a thunderstorm. And no accumulation of disasters daunted his conviction that they could be ended.

Next in my reading of Wells’ novels, this was written in 1913 and published in 1914. It’s quite a short book, an account of a near future where nuclear weapons are developed, major cities are devastated and the nations of the world come together to decide against future war and create a Utopia. It must have been at least indirectly inspiring for the creation of the United Nations thirty years later, and it’s striking how much closer to the mark he got with the impact of new technology on war than he did in The War in the Air, only six years earlier.

I have to say that as a novel it is not all that great. Good chaps, some of whom are royalty, get together in a remote resort to sort the world out, and there is not a lot of drama other than the big bangs of war. There are two named women characters, who have a dialogue on women’s place in the new order at the end. (And there’s a point-of-view unnamed secretary in Paris who witnesses one of the bombings in an earlier chapter.) It’s part of the chain of thought that ends with The Shape of Things to Come, and I think interesting mainly for that reason. You can get it here.

This was my top unread novel by Wells. The next is Love and Mr Lewisham.