THE CONQUEST OF TIME by H.G. Wells (Watts & Co, 1942)
In 1929, H.G. Wells’ First And Last Things was the first volume of the Thinker’s Library and The Conquest Of Time (vol.92) was written to replace it as a “a compacter and austerer book than its progenitor”.
In the revised version, Wells asks the question “whether Time is getting the better of us or we are getting the better of time”.
Published in 1942, the fact that it first appeared in the middle of WWII adds a sense of urgency and even mild panic over reflections on the nature of the individual’s role in society and our relationship with death.
Wells writes grimly: “Human beings are transitory. The mind rebels naturally and very readily against the tyranny of dead persons”. With the war raging, questions about whether the human species would endure and if so, in what form were not just academic enquiries but based on very real fears.
In Chapter IX ‘After-Man’, he tries to find some glimmer of hope in a dire situation: “Much of what is happening in the world now is hideous, dismaying, cruel and shameful; it is a vivid storm of elimination, yet it is not a biological catastrophe”.
The implicit hope is that conflict between nations may prove to be the wake-up call mankind needs and that joy will come out of the sorrow. It must have seemed over optimistic when it was written and still does more than seven decades later.