book-reviews

Men Like Gods

by H.G Wells

Rating: ★★★★

In a sense, Men Like Gods can be viewed almost as a sequel to In the Days of the Comet. While the narrative isn't a continuation, Wells returns to the themes laid out in the earlier novel, using the device of modern men being flung across dimensions to a more advanced utopian world as a way to reveal and rebut various challenges to the vision of society he aims for. While he still failed to convince me, this time he certainly managed to hold my interest.

In this new presentation, Wells shuns the 'sudden awakening' of his earlier novel. The Utopian world was achieved by a long, slow evolution of humanity which members of the dimension-hopping party recognise as ongoing in their own time. This more realistic approach helps to make the society more palatable, and generally we see a richer presentation of Wells' vision, with complexities of organisation and origination that hadn't been addressed previously being described.

Each of the dimension-hoppers brought to Utopia (bar perhaps the central figure, a world-weary editor) raises a challenge to the society - doing so either explicitly in an address to the Utopian population, or implicitly by their actions - which is then rebuffed by the narrative or the addressed Utopians. They also play the role of an explanation of modern approaches to utopia-building, be that the understanding yet disinterested approach of Mr. Burleigh, a great statesman and politician; the blind religious objection to a perceived decay in morality personified by the vicar of the party or the dual explicit and implicit challenge from the 'natural competition' angle of Mr. Catskill, which is by far the most successful. This theme is wrapped up by the return of the pro-Utopian central character to his own time, inspired to do his best to build such a Utopia on Earth.

This political deliberation is suitably well-dressed, however, and the novel does not really decay into a Symposium-style debate for long. The descriptions of the scientific achievements of this dimension are rich, and the turn to armed conflict between the Earthlings and the Utopians provides a dose of action and suspense.

I don't agree that the Utopia is attainable or necessarily desirable, but the counter-arguments set up by Wells in the novel are thought-provoking and merit consideration. The development of the Utopian theme here can perhaps be seen as a mirror to the post-civilisation of The Time Machine, though whether you consider that a further extension of Utopia or an alternate path-that-might-be is largely down to how you respond to the position put forward by the Utopians. Due to the combination of advanced argument, stronger plot and richer description, I found this novel much more interesting than In the Days of the Comet, and I'd advise people interested in this type of work by Wells to read this rather than the previous.