The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells


And he sleeps and sleeps. There’s a lot of rushing about, with descriptions of the changing landscape he sees. Other bits haven’t quite come true yet – the demolition of all buildings in the countryside; the replacement of London with moving walkways on various levels; a curious predilection for wearing robes at all times. Graham wakes to discover that he is under the control of The Council – a sort-of parliament – but also that he is supposedly the most powerful person in the world. For 203 years, to be precise. But Wells doesn’t. The opening scene of   The Sleeper Awakes sees a young artist named Mr Isbister wandering around Boscastle in the late 19th-century. The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells
I always seem to join in the Vulpes Libris Theme Weeks with the caveat that I don’t usually get on with the theme in question – c.f. This is probably why I shy away from science-fiction: so much of it (in my limited experience) is about setting the stage – about showing us what the world is, rather it is dystopian future or parallel universe or whatever. No desire even in my heart. By the time he finally wakes up, the world has changed dramatically – while he has barely aged (and seems to have retained use of his limbs, which are nothing worse than slightly shaky). Isbister was a fun, insouciant character, and the contract was amusing. I am wifeless – childless – who is it speaks of the childless as the dead twigs on the tree of life? Much, much worse – and the worst part of the novel – the ultimate heroic moment for Graham is based in crude racism. It felt pretty horrible to read, not least because the racism is part of the counter-attack to the dystopia, rather than part of the utopia itself. There is some rather fab comedy in this section, as Isbister meets these elaborate pronouncements with “I see”, and various other fairly hapless, well-meant advice. But I’m hoping I can find another Wells novel that takes the humour of the first ten pages or so, and turns that into a full-length novel. One thing at last I set myself to do. Sadly this is more or less the last time we see him. This gentleman alleges that he hasn’t slept for six days – his perpetual exhaustion seems to stem from some unhappy relationship, and he talks in rather elevated tones:
“I am a lone wolf, a solitary man, wandering through a world in which I have no part. And so on he goes. And in rather a lovely edition, from The Literary Press, whoever they were. It’s super, super racist, guys. Much of the novel – probably about two-thirds of it – seems to be Graham escaping from the Council with the aid of Ostrog and a band of rebels, and then (in turn) getting lost in the midst of a counter-battle. There is a pivotal plot ‘twist’ that is so obvious that it is barely deserving of the name, and this leads us to – yawn – another battle/escape situation. And of course science-fiction can do all of that, even if it takes a bit longer to get there. That, for me, is always the heart of a novel – the rest is set dressing. His investments have been steadily growing over 203 years, and he is impossibly rich – and almost a deity to England, or at least a sort of mythological figure. So this wasn’t a great success for me. I am wifeless, childless – I could find no duty to do. Perhaps he should have stuck to the real, present world. He is a cheerful chap, and disconcerted to come across a man looking miserable on the beach. between the earliest setting and publication of this novel), and a device surprisingly similar to an iPad. Um, no thanks Wells. I don’t care whether or not they have moving walkways, or what they wear, or what they’ve invented. It’s quite odd, reading this novel halfway between the time it was published and the world it envisages. It’s still certainly not a genre I would turn to as much as (say) your common-or-garden literary fiction – but it wasn’t a surprise to find   The Sleeper Awakes   (1910) waiting on my shelf. He’s found his way into phrase and fable (“When the sleeper awakes” is a saying meaning ‘never’), but plenty of people believe he died ages ago. Graham has changed completely from the first time we see him, but all he has changed into is a man who quite likes power and doesn’t much want to be killed. There’s precious little about character development or human interaction. For – as the title rather led us to suspect – the man, with the rather unheroic name of Graham,   does fall asleep. Some of it has come true – planes, for one thing (though, sneakily, powered flight had become a thing between the late 19th century and 1910 – i.e. Related We’re ready for the novel to begin. Sci-fi – though Wells’ novel is a worst case scenario – has to set up the world, and this is (to me) wasted time. Even after he finds himself independent, after the counter-battle, much of what happens is Graham visiting workers or talking to an old man, and learning more about the situation the world is in. Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestEmailPrintGoogleLike this:Like Loading… I want to read about people and how they relate to each other and what they experience. our weeks on poetry and historical fiction – but I have a little more experience with science-fiction than with either of those. A non-genre novel can start “It was a bright, cold morning in London on 1 January 1920”, and we pretty much know where we are.