H. G. Wells, the Teenage Sidekick of the Father of Science Fiction

I saw Robert J. Sawyer give a lecture on TV Ontario a couple weeks ago. In it, he called Mary Shelley the progenitor of science fiction. No arguments there. He also said the spur of this entire article; he called H. G. Wells the father of science fiction.

Now I’ve always held that H. G. Wells and Jules Verne both made a big impact on science fiction. Their footprints are different, but are about the same import. These two were the first science fiction writers to make a career out of it – even if their works went under the heading of scientific romances, back then. I mostly value them equally. But when it comes to being called the father of science fiction, Verne is easy to discern as the first career science fiction writer, by decades, and thus deserves the title.

Sawyer credited Brian Aldiss as being important in helping define the history part of his lecture. Indeed, I knew of Aldiss as a historian of SF because the library I used to work at, had at least one work in stock (Billion Year Spree?) which I glanced at. Unsure how to take this history I glanced at the Verne and Wells section and took away the distinct feeling Aldiss was minimizing Verne and promoting Wells. I felt it was too biased for my liking. That’s my long way of saying that this work of Aldiss was too long and I didn’t read it. I would have taken it out and read it, had I felt it was going to deal with SF fairly.

I blame Sawyer for his own father comment of Wells, even if Aldiss is his inspiration. Instead of following this lead I will always say that Verne is the true father of science fiction. But Wells is important also, so let’s give him the billing of being the teenage sidekick of the father of science fiction.

And, as I sought more backing on the web, I found that as well as these two, Hugo Gernsback is also sometimes called the father of science fiction. Which adds to my suspicion that the naming of a father of science fiction might differ by national identity. I’m sure in France many agree that Verne is the father. In Britain they of course see Wells as the father. In America they probably see Gernsback as the father of SF.

I think Sawyer is squandering the opportunity of being Canadian and bringing a new voice to the table. Instead, I see him as blindly following the British line maybe because of our close ties (spelling and the monarchy being two examples). So I will do it trying to be as neutral as possible. And again I say Verne is the father of SF. Wells can be the teenage sidekick of the father and Gernsback can be the tween sidekick of the teenage sidekick of the father. Or , to sound more respectful, Wells can be the ward of the father of SF and Gernsback can be ward of the ward of the father of SF.

And all this might be moot anyway. In many other cases where there is someone called the father of something, they are often also the progenitor of that field. So maybe the field of SF has only Mary Shelley as the mother of science fiction, and there could be said to be no real father.

About Larry Russwurm

Just another ranter on the Internet
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7 Responses to H. G. Wells, the Teenage Sidekick of the Father of Science Fiction

  1. Bob Jonkman says:

    While I’ll concede that Jules Verne is the modern father of science fiction (the father of modern science fiction?), an even earlier author of science fiction was Cyrano de Bergerac.

    In 1654 de Bergerac wrote about making trips to the moon and the sun and meeting the inhabitants. In the play by Edmond Rostand, a fictionalized account of de Bergerac’s life, de Bergerac falls out of a tree:

    DE GUICHE: Where fell that man from?
    CYRANO (sitting up, and speaking with a Gascon accent):
    From the moon!
    CYRANO: Ha, ha!–to know how I got up? Hark, it was by a method all my own.
    Six novel methods, all, this brain invented!

    DE GUICHE (turning round):

    CYRANO (volubly):
    First, with body naked as your hand,
    Festooned about with crystal flacons, full
    O’ th’ tears the early morning dew distils;
    My body to the sun’s fierce rays exposed
    To let it suck me up, as ‘t sucks the dew!

    DE GUICHE (surprised, making one step toward Cyrano):
    Ah! that makes one!

    CYRANO (stepping back, and enticing him further away):
    And then, the second way,
    To generate wind–for my impetus–
    To rarefy air, in a cedar case,
    By mirrors placed icosahedron-wise.

    de Bergerac then goes on to list four other methods for trans-lunar circumnavigation (although they probably didn’t call it that in 1654).

    So, if Verne is the father of Science Fiction and Wells is his teenage sidekick, then de Bergerac is the legacy character.


  2. Larry says:

    Awhile ago I did a search for the earliest mention of aliens in fiction. I thought it might of been Galileo who wrote about moon beings 1st. But I couldn’t find it. Cyrano de Bergerac may actually be the 1st mention.

  3. Sherri English says:

    Though a gifted storyteller, in fact, at any rate in his early years, Verne had not sufficient powers of imagination, or scientific understanding, to rise to true science fiction. Here the contrast with his much younger (by 39 years) competitor for the “father of science fiction” title, H.G. Wells, is most striking. The concept of a fourth dimension, for example, first took mathematical form in the 1840s. By 1870 it was, according to the mathematician Felix Klein, part of “the general property of the advancing young generation [of mathematicians].” Wells grasped the imaginative power of this notion and used it to produce one of the greatest of all science fiction stories, The Time Machine (1895). Verne never used it at all, and would probably have found the notion of a fourth dimension absurd.

  4. Larry says:

    Verne had plenty of scientific understanding in his books. Ideas don’t have to be complex to be scientific. Extrapolation leads to 20 000 Leagues Under the Sea. Many scientific principles were entertained in The Mysterious Island. A “sun” at the centre of the earth and using cannons to get to space were credible ideas to most. Imagination was used to start having regular science fiction stories from one individual. That’s where he deserves the father title.

  5. Bob Jonkman says:

    Just ran across a mention of another early treatment for lunar travel: A World in the Moon – Wilkins and his Lunar Voyage of 1640, an article about the article by John Wilkins. This predates the de Bergerac writing by 20 years, and may have been de Bergerac’s inspiration.

    If I run across the actual article by John Wilkins I’ll leave you another link.


  6. Bob Jonkman says:

    …which, thinking about it, makes the article I read an article about the article about the article John Wilkins wrote.

    …and the above comment could be considered an article about the article about the article about the article John Wilkins wrote.

    …and then this comment would be an article about the article…


  7. Daniel says:

    I agree that the bias toward Jules Verne as an early founder of Science-Fiction, it´s nonesense. Both Verne, and Wells simply had a different approach toward science and literatura itself, but that doesn´t means that they equally deserve respect for shaping what was simply known over a century ago as “Scientific Romance”. Much of what Verne wrote was adventure fiction, and very often romanticized one. Remember that his contemporaries were Twain, Haggard, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and his literary mentor was none other than another great XIX Century French literary giant, Alexander Dumas. Also, take account that Jules grew up in the seaport town of Nantes. He, and his younger brother Paul, enjoyed listening high adventure tales at sea from sailors who traveled to those far off lands beyond their homeland. Verne incorporated this fascination with the possibilities that the current Industrial Revolution might bring; science and technology as the ultimate tolos to achieve adventure, man reaching the unreachable; either traveling around the world in record time, to the depths of the, or even outer Space! No wonder why he infused a lot of believability in his stories, with paragraphs of engineering, georgraphy, and natural history, in his “Voyages Extraordinaires” series. He was very much the “Michael Crichton” and “Clive Cussler” of the mid 1800’s. Wells, on the other hand, did focus very much into what was strange, and often terrifying, and fantastic: Time travel, monsters (either from outer Space, or from genetic experiments)…His stories very much into the sub genre of “Weird Fiction”, whose best representant was H.P. Lovecraft

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