First published in 1933, The Shape of Things to Come by H.G. Wells is one of those novels that “predict” the future along with the likes of 1984 by George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
Before continuing, it should be noted that Wells studied under Thomas Henry Huxley, grandfather of Aldous Huxley. T.H. Huxley was a strong supporter of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and is known for his materialist and irreligious views. (I use those terms loosely.) Wells later introduced Aldous Huxley to satanist and occultist Aleister Crowley.
Wells was a socialist who joined the Fabian Society in 1903. He was also a member of the Coefficients Club—one of those elite think tanks—along with: Alfred Milner, a close associate of Cecil Rhodes; Bertrand Russell, atheist and philosopher; and Clinton Edward Dawkins, atheist, partner of J.P. Morgan (London branch) and distant relative of Richard Dawkins. It’s a small world and that’s nowhere near the half of it, but one gets the idea.
The Shape of Things to Come is in the form of a series of essays, in essence a history book. The premise is that these were written by Dr Philip Raven, a diplomat who saw in his dreams the history of the future up to the year 2106. He subsequently wrote it down and, at his death, the papers were given to the narrator.
Utilizing the form of an essay in fiction is a good idea but at a length of a typical novel, it is pretentious and tiresome. It is just a poor excuse for the author to write his own views, promoting the idea of a world-wide socialist “Modern State” or “One World-State” as the solution to humanity’s problems—the usual new-order-to-replace-the-old spiel. Wells, not surprising, conveniently takes a materialist view. For example, the Modern State is partly based on the work of a social scientist/psychologist named Gustave De Windt:
The most important features of his teaching were, first, that he insisted with an irrefutable rigidity upon the entirely artificial nature of the content of the social side of a human being. Men are born but citizens are made. A child takes to itself what is brought to it. It accepts example, usage, tradition and general ideas. All the forms of its social reactions and most of its emotional interpretations are provided by its education.
If the human being is reduced to a complicated machine, then it follows that education and propaganda (programming) will fix all problems.
Since the narrative is meant to be in chronological order, much of the first half is an analysis of the past (pre-1933). It does discuss the future (post-1933), but more of the future is revealed in the latter half.
To be fair, like real history books and essays, names are mentioned and people’s actions discussed so the work is not entirely impersonal. But it is mostly impersonal so it is nonetheless difficult to be invested in such a text.
As a vague comparison, both 1984 and Brave New World are somewhat clumsy in both their prose and overall structure. But at least both of these novels have interesting themes and some sort of plot, the former being more refined than the latter in every respect.
The Shape of Things to Come is worse than these two and difficult to read for all the aforementioned reasons. As for the post-1933 predictions, not all have come true. In some cases, some are vaguely true but not in the manner as written. Below are a few points:
WWII (1940–1950) was initially between Germany and Poland, the war ending with unresolved issues. WWII was easily predictable from back then. The dreams also revealed “gas warfare” to be widespread. Although that may not have been true during WWII, chemical and biological have been used since.
The idea of submarine-launched long-range “air torpedoes” for gas warfare vaguely resembles today’s nuclear-armed ICBMs, even if these WMDs did not exist back in WWII.
Interestingly, from May 1955 to November 1956, a mysterious “fever” killed half the world’s population. There was no cure but then it conveniently disappeared. As also demonstrated in The War of the Worlds (1898), Wells seemed to be fascinated with the idea of germs being absolute killers.
As such, the world after WWII and the pandemic does not resemble the recovery seen in real history, lacking even the radio.
In 1965, the powers decided to regulate air travel and in turn trade via “The Air and Sea Control” with its various tentacles, including “Educational and Advertisement Control”. This governing body eventually settled on an “air-dollar”, which represented a certain weight taking up a certain space to travel a certain distance at a certain speed. The idea of energy-units in economics isn’t new but one has to wonder whether this is hinting at the US petrodollar and, if applied to another context, the “carbon credit”.
In 1978, The Air and Sea Control became the first “World Council”.
In 1978, the Pope and many priests of the Roman Catholic Church were gassed during some big gathering. Days later, the holy places in Mecca were closed. Religious observances in India and places for the preparation of Jewish kosher food were also suppressed. There was “An Act of Uniformity”, a one-world religion that took their place since it was recognized that “education” of the masses required some sort of religion. Interestingly, in reality, Pope Paul VI died in 1978 and it is said in some circles that he was drugged by masons who had infiltrated the Roman Church at the highest levels. John Paul I was then elected in questionable circumstances, only to die 33 days later. His successor John Paul II was a known marxist who openly promoted humanist one-world religion.
Later, a “Second World Council” formed, somewhat a continuation of the first, also referred to as “Air Dictatorship”. This Air Dictatorship began its attack on the “lapsed regions” in 2006, its reign lasting 2010–2030. This resembles US/Western military airpower even if in reality it began earlier than 2006.
By 2059, the World Council had eradicated all social problems and achieved world peace. The members “retired” in peace since the world basically ran itself.
Basic English with a vocabulary of merely 850 words was formulated by Charles Kay Ogden (1889–1955). In reality, Ogden formed this system, at least in part, for the benefit of foreigners and he died in 1957. In the narrative, Basic English is the lingua franca, Wells in effect promoting it as an absolute and universal system. This is consistent to what is depicted in 1984—control of language (and education) in turn controls how people think.
The “World Encyclopedia Establishment” was founded in 2012. This almost sounds like Wikipedia or, given the date, what it has subsequently become.
Those who hold views that opposed the Modern State were given a “tabloid” as a means of execution, an obvious allusion to Socrates.
From the 2030s, due to climate and food-supply concerns, the population was deliberately kept below 2 billion even though it could be higher. It eventually reached that number in 2085. This sounds like the usual population control under the guise of “sustainable development”.
The “new sexual puritanism” tolerated birth control and the “first excesses of youth” as well as disregarding formal marriage. However, it insisted on public decency and “sexual seriousness” so that the world after the year 2000 was more monogamous. Yeah, sure, how’s that approach working out?
The various types of housing were all replaced by apartment blocks 10 to 12 stories high, all conveniently very clean and sufficient for the needs of the people… because individual dwellings are always filthy and bad. Again, this sounds like the usual “sustainable development” propaganda.
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