book-reviews

The Sleeper Awakes

by H.G Wells

Rating: ★★★★

Like In the Days of the Comet and Men Like Gods, The Sleeper Awakes is Wells imagining the future of mankind. Unlike those other novels, however, the vision he presents is not a Utopia, but rather a world where the troubles of his own time are ongoing, if not magnified. This rather more cynically toned tale is richer in curious details than the other future-gazing novels, and the focus on the Sleeper who became the Master of the world during a 203-year coma lends the tale a somewhat adventurous angle.

Wells does a very good job of imagining what the Sleeper - a man in a coma who is slowly bequeathed all the world's wealth in a monopoly scam - is faced with upon his miraculous awakening. The confused Master of the World knows nothing of what is going on around him, is dazzled by the immediate changes in the style of the world, and is quickly embroiled in a crisis prompted by his awakening - a popular revolt against the Council who ruled his accounts while he slept. The character is quite sympathetic as he tries to get to grips with the fluid situation around him and avoid becoming a powerless figurehead.

The socialist train of thought is still evident here - Wells is taking the inequality of wealth to an ultimate extreme by having one man handed all the power in the world, and billions labour for their allowance. It's something of a caricature of capitalism. Notably, the end result is that a 'people's revolution' breaks out (twice), with the Sleeper at its head, toppling the society which he was the foundation for (first against the Council ruling in his name, secondly against those who 'betrayed the revolution', the political elite).

It's always interesting to look back and see what was foreseen and what wasn't. As with other future-gazing by Wells, there are certain items which seem to be quite on-mark (the development of aeroplanes, feminism, urbanisation) others which are plausibly evident but overextended (hypnotic teaching, death of the private house) and yet others which seem completely mad. That said, we're only halfway through the timeframe he imagined.

Though the ending falls a little flat and sudden, the book makes quite an interesting read. I found it a good companion to Men Like Gods in that there is a breadth of description here devoted to what's almost a dystopia which parallels the outlines of that utopia. Wells' fans will likely enjoy it.