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In the Days of the Comet (1906)

by H. G. Wells

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7201322,733 (3.05)37
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 13 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  Joe73 | Oct 15, 2017 |
This H. G. Wells novel is hard to like, though he carries it out with his usual attention to detail. We get a protagonist who doesn't see what's important, our man William who scrabbled along. What makes this work as well as it does is its retrospective tone: the world of today seems very strange when viewed from the future, and Wells emphasizes this with the kind of explanations our narrator has to provide. But then a magic gas makes everyone act perfectly rationally from then on, and a new society free of the problems of the old one is born. (There's sort of a subgenre of apocalypses caused by strange gases at the turn of the century: In the Days of the Comet is preceded by M. P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud, and followed by Arthur Conan Doyle's The Poison Belt. I don't know if there are others.) In terms of providing practical solutions, there's not a lot going on, but I think this book is more about suggesting a way of thinking and seeing that would do all of us some good. Or so Wells thinks; anyone who has read a lot of Wells will be unsurprised to learn that according to the book, free love is the way to go.
  Stevil2001 | Sep 15, 2014 |
Mystery, Utopia, science fiction, socialism, the human condition and a blistering attack on turn of the century society: Wells puts it all together in this overlooked gem from his extensive legacy of books. Perhaps it is his thinly shrouded advocacy for a socialist society with element of free love (the free love element caused a stink in 1906), that has ensured the novels relative obscurity, or perhaps it is his unrelenting critique of human nature which strikes too close to the bone, or perhaps people feel that they have heard all this before from the great man, whatever the reasons I think this now ranks as one of the best examples from his oeuvre and it is the mystery element that binds it together and makes it work.

The prologue to the story establishes the mystery, the mystery of the narrator. It is written in the first person and describes how he arrives on some sort of assignment to a strange tower in which dwells a man furiously writing. The furniture is described as "new to me and in no fashion that I could name" the writer is using a "thing like a fountain pen" and our narrator is invited to read the tome whose pages are lying together as they have been written. Above the writer is a concave speculum through which can be seen a magnified, reflected, evasive rendering of a terrace, a palace, the vista of a great roadway with many people exaggerated, but the actual window in the tower is too high to see directly through. The narrator asks repeatedly "what is this place? and where am I? The mystery of the person doing the writing is solved when the story gets underway, because it is his story and he is Willie Leadford. The narrator proceeds to read the tome and it is Willie Leadford's autobiography that makes up the bulk of Wells novel.

Willie Leadford is a disaffected youth working in a pot-bank in a grimy midlands coal mining town. His friend Parload is an amateur stargazer who becomes affixed by the possibility of a new comet that is approaching earth. Willie has no time for the prattling stargazer he is much more interested in Nettie his fiancé of two years who lives 17 miles away and who he is assiduously courting. He becomes interested in socialism after hearing a public speaker with whom he establishes an acquaintance, but Willie's world is tumbling around his ears. He quits his job when his demand for a pay rise is refused, Nettie seems to be moving away from him and his poor mother is struggling to keep her head above water in their dingy rented house whose landlord refuses to carry out any repairs. Wells brilliantly paints a picture of the hopelessness of many aspects of working class life in those drear coal mining communities. We feel Willie's disaffection as Wells with a mixture of irony and satire describes the working mans situation:

it was a clear case of robbery, we held, visibly so; there in those great houses lurked the Landlord and the Capitalist, with his scoundrel the Lawyer, with his cheat the Priest, and we others were all the victims of their deliberate villainies. No doubt they winked and chuckled over their rare wines, amidst their dazzling, wicked dressed women, and plotted further grinding for the faces of the poor"

Willie's life gets more difficult when he gets involved in a demonstration at the local pit and discovers that Nettie is seeing another man and this man Verrall is a rich young man and friend of the mine owner. We follow Willie's journey from disaffected youth to a rampant class hatred of the wealthy and finally to would be murderer. It is important to Wells themes that the reader should not be in total sympathy for Willie, there is an ambiguity, a hatred a desperate side to his character that baulks the reader from being in total sympathy with him and all the while that comet is approaching earth. Things get even more desperate when war is declared between Britain and Germany and Wells adds this into the soup of the pressures and stresses that beat down the lives of the working men. Willie wants vengeance, but the reader is aware that a Change is coming and the comet now lights up the sky at night.

"Now, the whole world before the Change was as sick and feverish as that, it was worried and overworked and perplexed by problems that would not get stated simply, that changed and evaded solution, it was in an atmosphere that had corrupted and thickened past breathing, there was no thorough cool thinking in the world at all. There was nothing in the mind of the world anywhere but half truths, hasty assumptions, hallucinations and emotions. Nothing....."

The comet passes close enough to earth so that it's green like vapour trail has an immediate affect on the people. At once everyone goes into a coma like state, but this only lasts for a few hours and people start to awaken and now they are filled with a sort of divine light. Not everyone wakes up of course because some were killed when they went into a coma, for example those driving motors, those working machinery etc. The survivors are filled with a desire to start afresh and this time they only have the good of the whole community in their hearts. Wells after some excellent description of a world awakening anew concentrates his story back with Willie and his desperate pursuit of Nettie and Verrall. Now everything has changed and the three of them work towards an accommodation of their feelings. It is the same the world over men and women have been enlightened, they have lost their muddle, their pettiness, they can only perceive the good things to be achieved. The change has not affected their personalities their wants and desires, but it has given everybody the tools and the environment in which they can work through their issues. A new government is formed on socialist principles and the concept of ownership has changed.

This has been Willie Leadford's story and we are in no doubt that his story was re-enacted the world over, but now Wells provides us with an epilogue and at once the story is put into focus, but the mystery deepens. We know that Willie is an old man now writing his memoirs but what has happened to the world, and who is the narrator that now takes up the question that he has been itching to ask while reading Willie's autobiography. What happened between him and Nettie did they become lovers? That question is answered, but who is Willie, did the comets effects make them all into deities? Are they of the same world as the narrator. Read the book if you want to come to your own conclusions.

It is a magnificent achievement by Wells to combine many of his favourite themes into a novel that also holds our interest with an intense personal story and some incisive writing about working class life. He also along the way predicted the coming war with Germany (still eight years in the future) and provides us with an idea of an Utopian world. The sting in the tail however is that Utopia cannot be achieved without some massive outside intervention that will change mans basic perception of his world. Perhaps after all this is why the book is not so highly regarded because it is ultimately depressing. Wells may have created the mystery in order to shield his thoughts on the human condition and also to hide his ideas on free love, but whatever that maybe it has provided an intoxicating read which I rate at 4 stars. ( )
4 vote baswood | Jun 25, 2014 |
As a Socialist, he tries to move power. Great Age begins anew, as the 80s amazing as much the world.

In the Days of the Comet is a science fiction novel by H. G. Wells in which humanity is "exalted" when a comet causes "the nitrogen of the air, the old azote to "change out of itself" and become "a respirable gas, differing indeed from oxygen, but helping and sustaining its action, a bath of strength and healing for nerve and brain.n the Days of the Comet is a HG Wells novel that employs the vapors of a comet to bring about a profound and lasting transformation in the attitudes and perspectives of humankind ( )
  tonynetone | Dec 15, 2013 |
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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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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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