H.G. Wells still speaks to our fears and dreams

UnnamedMichael Dirda at The Washington Post:

During the first half of his writing career, H.G. Wells (1866-1946) imagined a machine that would travel through time, the fearsome tripods of Martian invaders, a moon rocket powered by Cavorite, the military tank (in the short story “The Land Ironclads”) and other engineering marvels. But, as Jeremy Withers’s “The War of the Wheels” reminds us, the father of science fiction was also fascinated by the bicycle.

If you look through Wells’s bibliography, you’ll notice that he was never strictly a writer of what he called “fantasias of possibility.” Yes, he found his first success in “The Time Machine,” published in 1895, but that same year he also brought out a collection of slight fictional pieces titled “Selected Conversations With an Uncle ,” a satirical fantasy called “The Wonderful Visit” — about an angel who is mistaken for a bird and shot by a clergyman — and “The Stolen Bacillus and Other Incidents,” a volume of his early science fictional short stories. In the following year, the industrious Wells then published his terrifying, Swiftian nightmare, “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” but also “The Wheels of Chance,” his first realistic, mildly comic novel in which a young draper’s apprentice goes off on a two-week bicycle holiday.

Obviously somewhat autobiographical — Wells had been a draper’s apprentice — that book reflects its author’s early passion for the bicycle. Throughout the 1890s, as Withers notes, England was crazy about cycling. What was called the “safety bicycle” — essentially the basic clunker we still know today — had supplanted those elegant big-and-small-wheeled marvels of earlier years. Pneumatic tires had improved ease of pedaling. Cycling clubs and specialty shops flourished. Hotshots, who sped along hunched over their handlebars, were called “scorchers.” Moralists worried that ladies might find sitting on a bike saddle sexually stimulating.

more here.