Transmutation Of Life Into Art

Willis E. McNelly

Jack Williamson, H. G. Wells: Critic of Progress (The Mirage Press, 1973, 172 pp., $5.95). Patrick Parrinder. H. G. Wells, The Critical Heritage (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 352 pp., $18,50). Norman and Jeanne Mackensie. H. G. Wells, A Biography. (Simon & Schuster, 1973, $10.00).

Recent publications of three important books about H. G. Wells may well indicate a resur-ence of interest in this pivotal figure. A prolific and influential writer, Wells used virtually every experience of his 80-year long life in his works. These three new books demonstrate how explicit was this transmutation of life into art. The Mackensies' new biography covers the familiar material well, adds new insights into the ways Wells brought an age alive, and probes his relationships with women in considerable detail.

Parrinder's research,, perhaps a bit over-priced at $18.50, brings together 92 original reviews of Wells' work, supplementing Rankem's H. G. Wells and his Critics (1962). Reading what T. E. Lawrence, T. S. Eliot, Joseph Conrad, or G. K. Chesterton thought of various Wells books as they were published is fascinating indeed.

However, both the Mackensies and Parrinder pay only lip service to Wells' contributions as an archetypal figure in science fiction. Jack Williamson, himself a prolific science fiction writer as well as a professor of English at Eastern New Mexico, remedies this defect. To maintain that Wells is the father of modern science fiction is a truism so often expressed that the substance of that assertion has never been examined in the detail it deserves. Williamson does so with personal insights invaluable to a critic attempting such an analysis. Hundreds of teachers across the country who may be facing a science fiction class for the first time, and who, for the first time may be facing students who know more about some aspects of their subject than they do, would do well to keep Williamson's study very handy. His analysis of how Wells transformed his scientific romances, as he called them, into sociological analysis and criticism is thorough and reasoned. Certainly, for teachers interested in the sociological phenomenon known as "SF", Williamson's book may be the best of the three, but all three books are valuable.

WILLIs E. McNELLY California State University, Fullerton