Friday, June 8, 2012

Late May's Book, At Long Last: In the Days of the Comet

This should have gone up a couple weeks ago. I also graduated a couple weeks ago. Figures, doesn't it? Book a Week should be back on track after another couple days of, well, hitting the books. Expect some more sci-fi, albeit a lot easier reading, and some historically focused books in the next few days.

As there's just so much to say about anything by H.G. Wells, this is my longest entry.

May 20-26: In the Days of the Comet by H.G. Wells

Literature (1906 - 162 pp.) 

My last three books have been The Hunger GamesThe Dilbert Principle and Fool. Apparently I thought these books were too easy... 

A quick disclaimer on In the Days of the Comet that is necessary for any science-fiction fan like myself: Do not expect another The Time Machineor The Island of Dr. Moreau, which I read at 16 and 12 respectively. Difficulty-wise, In the Days of the Comet is far more like Bleak House, which I read back in January. Do not be fooled by the 162 pages listed here; according to other sources (okay, "other sources" is Wikipedia, but I am not digging up a bunch of editions of the book), it clocks in at 378. My version is in an old leather-bound compendium I keep handy to make my bookshelf look more impressive or something. 

Now that I have properly outlined the extent of this book's pedantry, I will attempt to discuss the subject matter in a way that, as always, does not spoil the book for any prospective reader. The book's three parts detail the world before the comet, the impact of the comet, and the world after. Part I is concerned with the socialist perspective on Victorian/Edwardian industrial relations and society, as well as the stunted romance between our hero William Leadford and his paramour Nettie Stuart. Part II consists of the world as altered by the comet and what William makes of it. Part III resolves the whole thing by discussing the nature of human relationships, the departure of the new from the world, and the fashioning of a far more pleasant order than existed in the past. Part I is a dystopia and Part III is a utopia, making In the Days of the Comet a rare work of both dystopian and utopian fiction. 

The most interesting aspects of In the Days of the Comet lie in its carrying of the dystopian, transitional and utopian worlds. The vividness of their portrayals is evident is passages like "I held up my left hand and arm before me, a grubby hand, a frayed cuff; but with a quality of painted unreality, transfigured as a beggar might have been by Botticelli" ("The Change", p. 1). The more political side of the book has its merits too, like the convincing demonstration of the hapless British Cabinet that finishes Part II, and indeed even makes reference to Bleak House as a point of comparison for how far removed the politicians are from their surroundings. The statements made in the book are pointed and relevant regardless of your views on them. As a capitalist and as someone whose grandparents were born more than a decade after In the Days of the Comet's release, I suppose I am somewhere between disagreeing and uninformed. Past Victorian reading and historical research helps here, thankfully. 

My least favourite aspect of the book is one I was not expecting given my previous adventures with Wells. His other works tend to contain adventure, excitement, and usually some breed of monster. In the Days of the Comet barely has a plot, often preferring to spend pages on setting description or political musing rather than advancing a character's interests. There is also very little science fiction, it being entirely an appellation of the comet. At times, though, it feels like anything could have caused the change, not necessarily a comet. It is tough to imagine anything more realistic, odd as this sounds, and that may indeed be a point Wells is making. To suddenly halt a prophetic Anglo-German war (the book was written in 1906), to make a would-be murderer turn placid, and to make Britain's politicians act responsibly as Wells would have it, a comet may have truly been necessary. 

I had been wanting to read this book for at least a decade and now I can say I have. I am aware this is an egregiously late entry but sometimes life gets in the way. More entries will follow soon. 

Ease of Reading: 1 
Educational Content: 9

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