In the Days of the Comet
© 1906 H.G. Wells
Have you been cyanogened yet? Carl Sagan delivered that preposterous line in the original Cosmos, reading the newspaper headlines of a century past. Then, as Halley’s Comet approached the Earth, fear and wonder spread — and some enterprising rascal sold gas masks to people who feared the comet’s toxic fumes. As it turns out, they needn’t have worried; the comet’s fumes are magic!
That’s the setup for In the Days of the Comet, which opens with an old man reminiscing about his youth, set in the last days of Earth before ‘the Change’, when all was foul and dismal. He spent that week brooding, ignoring his mother, and stalking an ex-girlfriend across the country with the intent of shooting her. Fortunately for all concerned, as he crashed through the brambles firing his revolver at the girl and her new beau, the fumes of an approaching comet mixed with the atmosphere of Earth and made the world anew. Every living thing fell into a stupor, wakes up, and — after a contented belly scratch — decide to abolish everything and create The World State. And we all lived happily ever after.
Aside from a joke about Texas, very little of In the Days of the Comet made for enjoyable reading. The narrator is from the start a boor, one of those types who has discovered the Secret of Life and is intent on lecturing everyone who will listen, and berating those who won’t for being sheep. He grows even more tedious after The Change, because now his eyes are open to how much else was wrong with the old world, and since his fellow characters now agree with him, the only audience for his lectures is…the Reader. Alas. In the Days has nothing of science fiction in it; it is instead a bit of wish-fulfillment in which Wells writes about what’s wrong with the world: property, marriage, tradition, and Jews.
Wells’ status as an enlightened man of science takes quite the hit here, and not just because of the antisemitism. His views on society and economics are simplistic, to say the least, with science depicted as maaaaaagic. I guess they can’t all be War of the Worlds, eh H.G.?