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In the Days of the Comet (1906)

by H. G. Wells

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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8411625,431 (3.05)42
H. G. Wells, in his 1906 In the Days of the Comet uses the vapors of a comet to trigger a deep and lasting change in humanity's perspective on themselves and the world. In the build-up to a great war, poor student William Leadford struggles against the harsh conditions the lower-class live under. He also falls in love with a middle-class girl named Nettie. But when he discovers that Nettie has eloped with a man of upper-class standing, William struggles with the betrayal, and in the disorder of his own mind decides to buy a revolver and kill them both. All through this a large comet lights the night sky with a green glow, bright enough that the street lamps are left unlit.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 16 (next | show all)
Awful.

I like Wells. I love most of his books. I'm close to finishing a 1,000 page hardback of which is supposedly the complete short works. In everything I've read by him there has been something I have been able to appreciate, and the only consistent fault has been his obsession with the word "tumult". But "tumult" is not the issue here.

First, let me acknowledge this:

He predicts tanks.
He predicts war with the Germans.
You might even say he predicts Haley's comet.

But really, if you want to read a much better, shorter version of In the Days of the Comet with all the crap filtered out, you can read Wells' short story, "The Star". And if you're interested in his oddly prophetic ideas on war and tanks, you can read all about that in his short story, "The Land Ironclads". But I don't recommend this.

In the Days of the Comet starts with a prologue in which a man finds an older man at a writing desk at the top of a tower. He asks questions like "Where am I? What is this place? What are you writing?". The old man smiles and invites him to read what he has written. "And this explains?" says the man. "That explains" replies the older man.

And so the story begins.

Interesting? Well, yeah... Until you realise that the book is actually "In the Days" for 160 pages, "of the Comet" for possibly 10 pages in total, and "Wells' screwed up utopian ideas" for the rest of the damn book.

(spoilers below)

We find that the old man is called Leadford, and the story he has written looks back upon his life, back to the days when he was an arrogant, hot-headed, young man ascribing strongly to the views of socialism. Unfortunately for him, his childhood sweetheart strongly disagrees with his views and after a heated response to this from Leadford, the relationship is ended. Regretting his rash words, Leadford walks 17 miles to his ex-sweethearts house to apologise, but to no avail. He then discovers on the way home that she has in fact been involved in an adulterous relationship with another man, which is why he had failed to convince her to have him back. She and her lover run off together, disgracing both of their families; and Leadford, in a state of angry jealousy, buys a revolver and sets off to murder them (such was life in the days of the comet). All of which takes up almost 50% of the book, dragged out with long unnecessary descriptions about things you couldn't care less about. What Leadfords views were, what other people's views were, what the papers were saying, how every room he enters looks, how every insignificant person he meets looks and what views they ascribe to... BLAH BLAH BLAH.

Part of the problem here is that the story is written from the perspective of someone in a utopian society, looking back to the days when things were far from perfect. He spends half the book explaining the screwed-up ways of the past to a future generation that wouldn't have been there. But, of course, we are not utopian citizens unaware of the world's past. We are still living in a messed-up world and are perfectly aware of the way things are, so why spend 160 pages emphasising the days when the world was a terrible place? We know! We live here!

Anyway, things kick off and as the comet (ah yes, the comet!) begins to enter the atmosphere and cause a strange green vapour to enshroud the planet, Leadford angrily lets off several bullets at the fleeing lovers and fails to hit them even once, while at the same time, German tanks unexpectedly begin to invade. Madness ensues.

THEN: Everyone loses consciousness. When they awake, they are all of one mind. Everyone understands each other. Everyone "gets" what needs to be done to create a perfect society. All is forgiven. Everyone is kind. No one cares about money. Money doesn't matter. Yes... It's all so clear now! What fools we were!

Leadford makes peace with the lovers, goes home to care for his mother whom he previously didn't care for and eventually ends up in a free-loving relationship with himself, a girl called Anna, his ex-sweetheart and her lover.

Yes. Apparently, Wells' ideal utopia consists of foursomes.

I suppose in that sense you could say he predicted the 60's.

Anyway... Bad book. ( )
  TheScribblingMan | Jul 29, 2023 |
What an odd little book. I was surprised to see that Wells wrote this later than all his other famous, hyper-influential SF novels, because it reads more like an early failed experiment, but it sure is interesting.

The first section, a realistic portrait of a not very interesting Victorian young man, is quite a slog; you can tell that this novel was not serialized, because most readers would've given up after several chapters about his career decisions and romantic disappointments, wondering when he'd get to the damn comet.

Then [spoiler:] there's a comet, and everyone is scared, but instead of destroying the world, it saves it-- since as luck would have it, the comet is basically made out of magic Prozac. And then the rest of the book is a utopia, but since it's a new one rather than an established one, everyone's trying to adjust to no longer being screwed up and neurotic.

Unlike a lot of idea-based utopian narratives, Wells pays attention to what it might feel like, personally, to be cured of anxiety-- how promising yet totally weird it would be-- and sometimes he gets it across well, as early on when a guy accidentally breaks his ankle and notices that although it hurts and all, he's not freaking out, it's just one of those things that happens. And the earlier realistic slog pays off somewhat as the narrator realizes how all the vague angst he'd been going on about was just silly and unnecessary, but he still feels duty-bound to keep worrying about it, even though he's now physically unable to worry; he keeps trying to stay jealous of his ex-girlfriend and her new guy, even as she's trying to tell him that everything's cool because now they can all be lovers. That stuff rang true to me; Wells understood that when people have spent their whole lives learning how to be serious and unhappy, they're not going to want all that effort to have been wasted.

On the other hand, it also has one of the weirdest bits of oblivious racism I've ever seen. There's a post-comet scene where some businessmen and politicians are testifying ruefully about what jerks they used to be, and one of them is a Jewish banker... not just any Jewish banker, but the Jewish banker, the creepy greedy smelly sneaky one of anti-semitic legend. But now, like everyone else, he's a decent guy; and he tells his own story, which is basically: "Wow, we Jews sure were greedy and awful! But it was just because of our mental hangups about being so weird and inferior! Now, thanks to the comet, we can all just get along." It's particularly bizarre because Wells obviously thought of this as an enlightened view-- i.e. they're not genetically bad, they're just all twisted and evil for psychological/cultural reasons. And yet, ew.

It's no mystery why the book isn't well known: it basically has no plot, and in the end it's a big "wouldn't it be nice if" relying on a deus ex machina. (And although it's always appealing to think that we could be awesome if we just weren't being held back by some kind of psychic debris-- Gurdjieff, Colin Wilson, and L. Ron Hubbard come to mind-- Wells refuses to give us any superpowers as a result of this, other than happiness, so SF readers may feel cheated.) But because it never caught on like his other books (many of which created whole subgenres), I found it kind of fresh and surprising despite the clunky aspects.

Oddly, the closest connection I can think of in later SF is in the work of [a:Samuel Delany|49111|Samuel R. Delany|http://photo.goodreads.com/authors/1207158768p2/49111.jpg], who had two very different takes on parts of the premise: [b:Triton|85893|Trouble on Triton An Ambiguous Heterotopia|Samuel R. Delany|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1266468960s/85893.jpg|82889], where human nature hasn't changed but there's still a (sort of) utopia where a neurotic guy has trouble adjusting, and [b:Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand|85861|Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand|Samuel R. Delany|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1171062756s/85861.jpg|945568], where you can get a treatment to make you incapable of worrying about anything but then you immediately get sold into slavery. ( )
1 vote elibishop173 | Oct 11, 2021 |
https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/3688183.html

The planet earth passes through the tail of a comet, and as the result of a massive collective shift of spiritual consciousness, human society is transformed into a polyamorous happy new state of affairs. It goes on for a bit longer than that, but that's the gist. Really rather earnest, even by Wells' standards. ( )
  nwhyte | Jul 22, 2021 |
This was quite an intriguing, and very well written in parts, novel by H.G Wells. I felt this was him still experimenting with form, structure, and style- but that is some of the greatest things about this book. It is unlike any of his others and that is where the power lies. Overall, I was well entertained and think this offers much for readers.

3.25 stars. ( )
  DanielSTJ | May 5, 2020 |
This story was hard to like. The main character was a despicable fellow. He was self absorbed, full of hatred and was so full of self loathing and hatred of those around him that he could not function as a member of society...he knew this but yet was ok with it. The only thing he cared about was a stuck up socialite which eventually put him on the road to murder. Victorian/Edwardian Era Hippies and free love....this must have been scandalous at the time it was written. But the moral is there...I guess. ( )
  JHemlock | Oct 15, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. G. Wellsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bova, BenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowndes, Robert A.W.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I saw a grey-haired man, a figure of hale age, sitting at a desk and writing.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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H. G. Wells, in his 1906 In the Days of the Comet uses the vapors of a comet to trigger a deep and lasting change in humanity's perspective on themselves and the world. In the build-up to a great war, poor student William Leadford struggles against the harsh conditions the lower-class live under. He also falls in love with a middle-class girl named Nettie. But when he discovers that Nettie has eloped with a man of upper-class standing, William struggles with the betrayal, and in the disorder of his own mind decides to buy a revolver and kill them both. All through this a large comet lights the night sky with a green glow, bright enough that the street lamps are left unlit.

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