The Shape of Things to Come
|The Shape of Things to Come|
First edition dust jacket
|Author(s)||H. G. Wells|
|Publication date||September 1933|
The Shape of Things to Come is a work of science fiction by H. G. Wells, published in 1933, which speculates on future events from 1933 until the year 2106. In the book a world state is established as the solution to mankind's problems.
As a frame story, Wells claims that the book is his edited version of notes written by an eminent diplomat, Dr. Philip Raven, who had been having dream visions of a history textbook published in 2106, and wrote down what he could remember of it. It is split into five separate sections or "books":
- Today And Tomorrow: The Age of Frustration Dawns - The history of the world up to 1933.
- The Days After Tomorrow: The Age of Frustration - 1933-1960.
- The World Renaissance: The Birth of the Modern State - 1960-1978.
- The Modern State Militant - 1978-2059.
- The Modern State in Control of Life - 2059 to New Year's Day 2106.
Poland proves the military match of Nazi Germany and engages in an inconclusive war lasting ten years. More countries are eventually dragged into the fighting, France and the Soviet Union are only marginally involved, Britain remains neutral, the US fights inconclusively with Japan. The Austrian Anchluss happens during, rather than before, the war. Czechoslovakia avoids German occupation, and its President Edvard Beneš survives to initiate the final "Suspension of Hostilities" in 1950.
The war drags on until 1950 and ends with no victor but total exhaustion, collapse and disintegration of all fighting states (and also of the neutral countries, equally affected by the deepening economic crisis). Europe and the whole world descend into chaos: nearly all central governments break down, and a devastating plague in 1956-57 kills a large part of humanity and almost destroys civilization.
Wells then envisages a benevolent dictatorship—'The Dictatorship of the Air' (a term likely modelled on 'The Dictatorship of the proletariat' and concept similar to Kipling's Aerial Board of Control )—arising from the controllers of the world's surviving transportation systems (the only people with global power). This dictatorship promotes science, enforces Basic English as a global lingua franca, and eradicates all religion, setting the world on the route to a peaceful utopia. When the dictatorship chooses to murder a subject, the condemned person is given a chance to take a poison tablet.
Eventually, after a century of reshaping humanity, the dictatorship is overthrown in a completely bloodless coup, the former rulers are sent into a very honourable retirement, and the world state "withers away" (as was predicted by Friedrich Engels in his 1877 work Anti-Duhring). The last part of the book is a detailed description of the Utopian world which emerges, in some ways reminiscent of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. The ultimate aim of this utopian world is to produce a world society composed entirely of polymaths, each and every one of its members the intellectual equal of the greatest geniuses of the past.
As noted by Neville, while The Shape of Things to Come was written as a future history, seen in retrospect it can be considered as an alternate history diverging from ours in late 1933 or early 1934, the Point of divergence being U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's failure to implement the New Deal and revive the US economy (and also Adolf Hitler's failure to revive the German economy by re-armament). Instead, the worldwide economic crisis continues for three decades, concurrently with the war. The war is prosecuted by countries already on the verge of collapse and ends, not with any side's victory, but with universal collapse and disintegration (including non-combatant countries). There follows the complete collapse of capitalism and the emergence of the above-mentioned new order.
Suppression of religions 
One of the major aspects in the creation of the World State envisioned by Wells is the abolition of all organized religion—an act deemed indispensable in order to give the emerging "Modern State" a monopoly over education and the complete ability to mould new generations of humanity worldwide into the required shape.
The abolition of Islam is carried out by the Air Police, who "descend upon Mecca and close down the main holy places", apparently without major incident. Eventually, Islam disappears, its demise accelerated by the decay of Arabic and its replacement by "an expanded English". Some twenty mosques survive, deemed to be worthy of preservation on architectural grounds. The Lebanese-American scholar George Nasser remarked on this aspect of Wells' book: "In the 1979 imagined by H.G. Wells, a self-appointed ruling elite composed mainly of Westerners, with one Chinese and one Black African and not a single Arab member, would establish itself in the Arab and Muslim city of Basra and calmly take the decision to completely extinguish and extirpate the Muslim religion. (...) In the 1979 of real history, Khomeini's Islamic Republic of Iran came into being".
The most prolonged and formidable religious opposition envisaged by Wells is from the Catholic Church (there is little reference to Protestants). The Pope and entire Catholic hierarchy are gassed unconscious when blessing the new airplanes built by a revived Fascist Italy. After the Catholic Church is decisively crushed in Italy, it finds refuge in Ireland, "the last bastion of Christianity" which becomes a Catholic theocracy. Ireland is also subdued, after which limited Catholic resistance is maintained in Latin America, under "a coloured Pope in Pernambuco"—but it, too, is finally put down.
Wells gives considerable attention to the fate of the Jews. In this history, the enfeebled Nazi Germany is incapable of systematic murder on the scale of the Holocaust. However, Jews greatly suffer from "unorganized" persecution, and there is a reference to anti-Jewish pogroms happening "everywhere in Europe" during the chaotic 1950's. And in a world where all nation-states were a doomed anachronism, Zionism and its ambition to create a new such state obviously came to naught.
In the later struggle between the emerging world state and its opponents, Jews are seen as caught between the hammer and the anvil. Following the launch of its anti-religious campaign, the Modern State closes down all kosher butcheries still in operation - while the opening act of the "Federated Nationalist" rebels opposing this state is to perpetrate a pogrom against Jews in the Frankfurt area. Eventually, in Wells's vision, it is the Modern State's forced assimilation which wins out and the Jews—who had resisted earlier such pressures—become completely absorbed in the general society and lose their separate identity.
Film adaptations 
Wells loosely adapted the novel for the screenplay of the 1936 film Things to Come, produced by Alexander Korda and directed by William Cameron Menzies. It also takes elements from Wells' 1931 non-fiction work, The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind. The film stars Raymond Massey, Ralph Richardson, Cedric Hardwicke, and Margaretta Scott.
H. G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come is a Canadian science fiction motion picture first released in May 1979. Although credited to H. G. Wells, the film takes only its title and some character names from the original source material. The film's plot has no relationship to the events of the book. The film was an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of such recent successes as Star Wars, and TV series such as Space: 1999 and Battlestar Galactica, although the film had only a fraction of the production budget of any of these.
In other media 
- "The Shape of Things to Come" is the title of a track in the Battlestar Galactica Season One Soundtrack composed by Bear McCreary.
- An episode of the television series Lost is titled "The Shape of Things to Come". One of the main settings in the episode is Iraq, similar to the novel.
- "The Shape of Things to Come" is the last track on the Powerman 5000 album, Transform.
- "The Shape of Things to Come" is also the name of a song on the Audioslave album, Revelations.
- "The Shape of Things to Come" is also the name of the last scene in the last episode (Apotheosis) of Caprica (TV series). This scene, with a score by Bear McCreary outlines the future development of the Cylon machine race and why the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica have monotheistic tendencies. This scene also ties up the loose ends of multiple story arcs.
- Charles B. Neville, The worlds that never were, New York, 1986, p. 85.
- §1. A Chronological Note In Wells's Introduction to The Shape of Things to Come, at Project Gutenberg Australia
- Dr. George Nasser, "The Long Tortuous and Arrogant Road to 9/11" in Barbara Wheatley (ed.) "The West and Islam, Islam and the West: Confrontation or Accommodation?"
- New York Times. "The Shape of Things to Come". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-23.