In Part 2 of our look at great literary genres, Jacke probes the development of science fiction, from ancient Greek travels to the moon to the amazing stories of the twentieth century. Along the way, he chooses four candidates for the Mount Rushmore of Science Fiction, reads a passage from science fiction’s O.G., and sees if there is a secret to science fiction that he can discover. Enjoy!
Early in her career, novelist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) wrote a critical essay in which she set forth her views of what fiction can and should do. The essay was called “Modern Fiction” (1919), and it has served critics and readers as a guide to Modernism (and Woolf) ever since. But while it’s easy to follow her arguments about the authors who became giants in the world of literature such as Joyce and Chekhov, it’s less easy to understand her statements about the authors she criticized, contemporary best sellers H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, and John Galsworthy. What was behind her savage criticism of these three? What does her animosity tell us about Woolf’s views of fiction? Professor Andrea Zemgulys of the University of Michigan joins Jacke to help him figure this out. Then a pair of children’s book experts (Jacke Wilson Jr. and Jacke Wilson Jr. Jr.) join Jacke in the studio to discuss buying holiday books for children.
God bless H.G. Wells. He seems like kind of a decent guy, and as a kid I loved his books (The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, etc.). My parents had a set of a History of the World he’d written, which I tried to read about a million times but could never get beyond five pages. I don’t think they had either; it had the classic feel of “Oh, that was that year that everyone bought that one book that nobody actually read.”
Something about him always made me think he was kind of a bumbler. Why? Because I realized that other respected writers didn’t take him seriously? I’m not sure. It may have been the cover of my copy of The Time Machine, which had a desperate looking man on it. I always thought that was him. Earnest. Forthright. A Serious Person in capital letters. And…sort of buffoonish. Maybe this is unfair. But it stuck with me.