THE WORLD SET FREE
May 3, 2022
Under the direction of HILOBROW editor Josh Glenn, the MIT Press’s Radium Age is reissuing notable proto-sf stories from the underappreciated era between 1900–1935.
In these forgotten classics, sf readers will discover the origins of enduring tropes like robots (berserk or benevolent), tyrannical supermen, dystopias and apocalypses, sinister telepaths, and eco-catastrophes.
With new contributions by historians, science journalists, and sf authors, the Radium Age book series will recontextualize the breakthroughs and biases of these proto-sf pioneers, and chart the emergence of a burgeoning literary genre.
Today marks the publication of the following Radium Age series title…
THE WORLD SET FREE
Introduction by SARAH COLE
Afterword by JOSHUA GLENN
(May 3, 2022)
Writing in 1913, on the eve of World War I’s mass slaughter and long before World War II’s mushroom cloud finale, H. G. Wells imagined a war that begins in atomic apocalypse but ends in a utopia of enlightened world government. Set in the 1950s, Wells’s neglected novel The World Set Free describes a conflict so horrific that it actually is the war that ends war.
Wells — the first to imagine a “uranium-based bomb” — offers a prescient description of atomic warfare that renders cities unlivable for years: “Whole blocks of buildings were alight and burning fiercely, the trembling, ragged flames looking pale and ghastly and attenuated in comparison with the full-bodied crimson glare beyond.” Drawing on discoveries by physicists and chemists of the time, Wells foresees both a world powered by clean, plentiful atomic energy — and the destructive force of the neutron chain reaction.
With a cast of characters including Marcus Karenin, the moral center of the narrative; Firmin, a proto-Brexiteer; and Egbert, the visionary young British monarch, Wells dramatizes a world struggling for sanity. Wells’s supposedly happy ending — a planetary government presided over by European men — may not appeal to contemporary readers, but his anguish at the world’s self-destructive tendencies will strike a chord.
“A breathless story of great wars of World Powers, of hovering aeroplanes with atomic bombs, and of peace between Kings in a World Council.” — Sinclair Lewis, The Detroit Free Press (1914)
“The color, vigor, and picturesqueness of Mr. Wells’s description of this last war combine to produce an amazing effect.” — The New York Times (1914)
“After writing his pioneering scientific romances, H.G. Wells began a life-long project of writing utopian texts. This sustained and stubborn effort, over forty disastrous years, helped to shape a vision of a better world for those designing the postwar order. The World Set Free is a crucial, stand-out novel in Wells’s amazing effort, and it’s good to see it in a new scholarly edition.” — Kim Stanley Robinson
H.G. WELLS (1866–1946) is best known today as author of pioneering scientific romances such as The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), and The War of the Worlds (1898). An important influence on sf authors from Olaf Stapledon to Arthur C. Clarke, he was also a social critic and futurist who penned dozens of novels, stories, and works of history and social commentary in which he proposed more rational ways to organize society.
SARAH COLE is the author of Inventing Tomorrow: H.G. Wells and The Twentieth Century (2019). The Parr Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Dean of Humanities at Columbia University, she is the cofounder of the NYNJ Modernism Seminar and founder of the Humanities War and Peace Initiative at Columbia. She is also the author of Modernism, Male Friendship, and the First World War (2003) and At the Violet Hour: Modernism and Violence in England and Ireland (2012).
JOSHUA GLENN, who was the first to describe the years 1900–1935 as science fiction’s “Radium Age,” has helped popularize stories from the era for over a decade now. A former Boston Globe staffer and publisher of the indie intellectual journal Hermenaut, he is coauthor of The Idler’s Glossary (2008), Significant Objects (2012), and the family activities guide UNBORED (2012). He is also cofounder of the brand consultancy Semiovox; and he publishes the blog HILOBROW.
Originally published in 1914. See this book at MIT Press.
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF FROM THE MIT PRESS: VOICES FROM THE RADIUM AGE, ed. Joshua Glenn | J.D. Beresford’s A WORLD OF WOMEN | E.V. Odle’s THE CLOCKWORK MAN | H.G Wells’ THE WORLD SET FREE | Pauline Hopkins’ OF ONE BLOOD | J.J. Connington’s NORDENHOLT’S MILLION | Rose Macaulay’s WHAT NOT | Cicely Hamilton’s THEODORE SAVAGE | Arthur Conan Doyle’s THE LOST WORLD & THE POISON BELT | G.K. Chesterton’s THE NAPOLEON OF NOTTING HILL | William Hope Hodgson’s THE NIGHT LAND | MORE VOICES FROM THE RADIUM AGE, ed. Joshua Glenn | MORE TBA.
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.