BOOK REVIEW – H G WELLS – THE SLEEPER AWAKES 1899 Sphere Science Fiction.
One of Wells’s less well-known and weaker novels. It is ultimately slowed, tedious, repetitive, and monotonous.
The plot is straightforward enough. The hero, Graham, for who we have no surname, goes from having a severe attack of insomnia to collapsing into a deep coma like sleep in 1899. He does not wake up until 2100 A.D. The cause of his Rip Van Winkle malady is never explained. Graham is simply a plot devise for Wells’s vision.
Early chapters exploring his condition, and his friends growing old by his hospital bedside where he lies, un-aging, are quite touching, but the book loses momentum once Graham wakes up.
Graham finds himself in a future London he can barely recognize or comprehend. No one explains anything to him for much of the book so he finds himself in perpetual culture shock. The future concept is good, and yet the megacity London, that has swallowed much of the Southern county territory, and where energy is provided by giant wind turbines is powerful enough. Many films from Metropolis onwards depict such future-scapes and it is easy to forget that Well’s came up with many such visions first. Wells makes little use of this however, preferring a series of political rants and debates. This London is a capitalist monstrosity, decadent and out of control. To his horror, Graham finds out that it is largely funded by the compound interest from his bank accounts, untouched since he fell into his coma. Now he is up, the people are in collision for ownership of him, as a figurehead for both State control and for the revolutionary parties. It soon becomes obvious that the revolutionaries are themselves capitalists, seeking power only for themselves, rather than being true heroes of the people.
When the revolutionaries, led by a man called Ostrog, wins, Ostrog seeks to import a fearful foreign army from Africa (Wells comes across as intensely racist in creating this invading task force). The army attack is to come via the air, with Wells using strong prophetic visions of air travel being used for both commercial and military purposes.
Graham, learning some of the basics of flying, steals a plane, and takes on the invading aircraft almost single handedly, though ground to air defences take down his plane as his victory seems assured. The story ends abruptly with Graham’s plane crashing and disintegrating, his fate unknown, but most likely to involve his death.
A high concept novel rendered dull by political sermonizing and by Wells trying too consciously to be a Nostradamus like seer. The Woody Allen film Sleeper, draws heavily on the basic plot of the novel, but adds lots of jokes too. Wells takes the ideas he creates far too seriously, so this was never going to be a novel to match The War Of The Worlds or The Invisible Man.
© Copyright. Arthur Chappell
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