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Men Like Gods

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Wikipedia article

'Men Like Gods' is a novel (the author called it a "scientific fantasy"H.G. Wells, 'Seven Famous Novels' (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934), p. x.) published in 1923 by H. G. Wells. It features a utopia located in a parallel universe.

Plot summary

'Men Like Gods' is set in the summer of 1921. Its protagonist is Mr. Barnstaple (no first name is ever given), a journalist working in London and living in Sydenham. He has grown dispirited at a newspaper called 'The Liberal' and resolves to take a holiday. Quitting wife and family, he finds his plans disrupted when his and two other automobiles are accidentally transported with their passengers into "another world," which the "Earthlings" call Utopia.

A sort of advanced Earth, Utopia is some three thousand years ahead of humanity in its development. For the 200,000,000 Utopians who inhabit this world, the "Days of Confusion" are a distant period studied in history books, but their past resembles humanity's in its essentials, differing only in incidental details: their Christ, for example, died on the wheel, not on the cross. Utopia lacks any world government and functions as a successfully realized anarchy. "Our education is our government," a Utopian named Lion says.H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book I, Ch. 5, Sect. 6. Sectarian religion, like politics, has died away, and advanced scientific research flourishes. Life in Utopia is governed by "the Five Principles of Liberty," which are privacy, free movement, unlimited knowledge, truthfulness, and free discussion and criticism.

Mr. Barnstaple longs to stay in Utopia, but when he asks how he can best serve Utopia, he is told that he can do this "by returning to your own world."H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book III, Ch. 3, Sect. 1. Regretfully he accepts, and ends his month-long stay in Utopia. But he brings with him back to Earth a renewed determination to contribute to the effort to make a terrestrial Utopia: "[H]e belonged now soul and body to the Revolution, to the Great Revolution that is afoot on Earth; that marches and will never desist nor rest again until old Earth is one city and Utopia set up therein. He knew clearly that this Revolution is life, and that all other living is a trafficking of life with death."H.G. Well, 'Men Like Gods', Book III, Ch. 4, Sect. 2.

'Men Like Gods' is divided into three books. Details of life in Utopia are given in Books I and III. In Book II, the Earthlings are quarantined on a rocky crag after infections they have brought cause a brief epidemic in Utopia. There they begin to plot the conquest of Utopia, despite Mr. Barnstaple's protests. He betrays them when his fellows try to take two Utopians hostage, and Mr. Barnstaple is forced to escape execution for treason by fleeing perilously.

Critical response

Contemporary reviews of the novel were largely positive, though some found the story weakly plotted. As is often the case in his later fiction, Wells's utopian enthusiasm exceeded his interest in scientific romance or fantasy (his own terms for what is now called science fiction). The novel was yet another vehicle for Wells to propagate ideas of a possible better future society, also attempted in several other works, notably in 'A Modern Utopia' (1905). 'Men Like Gods' and other novels like it provoked Aldous Huxley to write 'Brave New World' (1932), a parody and critique of Wellsian utopian ideas.Aldous Huxley, 'Letters of Aldous Huxley', ed. by Grover Smith (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, 1969), p. 348: "I am writing a novel about the future — on the horror of the Wellsian Utopia and a revolt against it. Very difficult. I have hardly enough imagination to deal with such a subject. But it is none the less interesting work" (letter to Mrs. Kethevan Roberts, May 18, 1931).

Wells himself later commented on the novel: "It did not horrify or frighten, was not much of a success, and by that time I had tired of talking in playful parables to a world engaged in destroying itself."H.G. Wells, 'Seven Famous Novels' (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1934), p. x. Wells adds: "I was becoming too convinced of the strong probability of very strenuous and painful human experiences in the near future to play about with them much more. But I did two other sarcastic fantasies, not included here, 'Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island' and 'The Autocracy of Mr. Parham', in which there is I think a certain gay bitterness, before I desisted altogether."


'Men Like Gods' is notable for a number of set pieces: a description of telepathy,H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book I, Ch. 5, Sect. 2. which has become the standard means of communication among Utopians and which enables them to communicate in the languages of the Earthlings (English and French); a meditation on mortality;H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book II, Ch. 3, Sect. 7. a reflection on racial segregation, which largely persists in Utopia;H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book III, Ch. 2, Sect. 2. a description of how society could function without money;H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book III, Ch. 2, Sect. 4. a denunciation of Marxism;H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book III, Ch. 4, Sect. 3. a description of a wireless internet;H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', Book III, Ch. 2, Sect. 3. and several discussions of multiple universes.H.G. Wells, 'Men Like Gods', 'passim'.

Several characters in the novel are directly taken from the politics of the 1920s. Rupert Catskill probably represents Winston Churchill, as he was seen at that time: a reckless adventurer. Catskill is depicted as a reactionary ideologue, criticises Utopia for its apparent decadence, and leads the attempted conquest of Utopia.


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