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Charles Fort Must Die

Science Fiction Legend H.G. Wells REALLY Didn’t Like Forteans

There tends to be a fair amount of overlap between those who love science fiction and those of a Fortean leaning – for example, William Gibson, author of the proto-Matrix novel Neuromancer, is known to be a subscriber to Fortean Times. But it seems the legendary science fiction author H.G. Wells can’t be counted among that group. When the influential American novelist Theodore Dreiser sent Wells copies of Charles Fort’s seminal publications The Book of the Damned and Lo! (Dreiser was one of Fort’s biggest fans and supporters – he originally got his publisher to release The Book of the Damned in 1919 by threatening to take his own books elsewhere), Wells responded with a letter that left little doubt about his thoughts on Fort’s writing style, topic of choice, and both Dreiser and Fort’s penchant for attacking “orthodox science”.

Dear Dreiser,

I’m having Fort’s Book of the Damned sent back to you. Fort seems to be one of the most damnable bores who ever cut scraps from out of the way newspapers. I thought they were facts. And he writes like a drunkard.

Lo! has been sent to me but has gone into my wastepaper basket. And what do you mean by forcing “orthodox science” to do this or that? Science is a continuing exploration and how in the devil can it have an orthodoxy? The next you’ll be writing is the “dogmas of science” like some blasted Roman Catholic priest on the defensive. When you tell a Christian you don’t believe some yarn he can’t prove, he always call you “dogmatic”. Scientific workers are first rate stuff and very ill paid and it isn’t for the likes of you and me to heave Forts at them.

God dissolve (and forgive) your Fortean Society. Yours,

H.G. Wells

Dreiser responded to Wells with a defence of his friend Fort, expressing his surprise that “You, the author of The War of the Worlds” could be “so sniffish and snotty over The Book of the Damned!”, and pointed out to the great science fiction writer that Fort’s strange anecdotes were not just cut from newspapers, but that also “a respectable body of his data seems to come from scientific papers, reports and letters written to the Royal Society in England and the American Academy of Science here”.

For more fascinating facts about the early years of Fortean studies, see Jim Steinmeyer’s biography of the “mad genius of the Bronx”, Charles Fort: The Man Who Invented the Supernatural (Amazon US and UK).

Related:

Editor
  1. Wells and Email
    Greg:

    You wrote “Wells responded with an email,” regarding Wells’ response to Dreiser in 1919. Possibly this did occur in an alternate or probable 1919, but definitely not in any accepted or official version. Aside from lacking a personal computer and modem or even a terminal, there was no network at that time over which email could be sent; no servers, either. It’s likely Wells sent his note via snail mail.

    Wells’ views at that time, when science was making some wonderful discoveries (leading to endless new inventions and practical applications) and turning many away from religious beliefs, should come as no surprise. Consider, too, Wells’ life story, with his rise from humble origins owing in large part to being given an unexpected opportunity to read and study science, first informally, then more formally. His early science fiction (and life) must be seen within the context of this late (and very stratified) Victorian society.

    Like anyone else with an active and open mind, Wells’ views continued to change as he did, after his death, that death taking place at a time most difficult and depressing for him not long after the dropping of atomic bombs on living people, especially depressing for him as he’d invented the term “atomic bomb” in a WWI-era tale and felt almost as though his imagining of this mis-application of science had much to do with the situation.

    See some examples of the post-death Wells at http://www.realitytest.com/wells01.htm.

    This sort of trance communication (“autotyping”) relies on a living human “translator,” who “colors” or “filters” the thoughts of the deceased through their own mind; thus the most excellent post-death Wells’ essays would require finding someone with both the requisite abilities and a mind as quick as Wells,’ complete with a suitable vocabulary, not an easy task. Were such a person to be found or to appear, and were they to be sufficiently interested in the task, an entire book or books of such essays would likely appear. As the situation stands, we have only these few short exploratory attempts made years ago.

    1. Email was science fiction back then
      [quote=RealityTest]You wrote “Wells responded with an email,” regarding Wells’ response to Dreiser in 1919.[/quote]

      LOL, can you tell I’m operating on not much sleep at the moment? Amended, thanks for the heads-up.

      (Though I didn’t say he responded in 1919. The letter was sent I think in 1931, the 1919 date was regarding the publication of The Book of the Damned. Still wasn’t any email in 1931 though anyhow… ;P )

  2. Wells Was A Jerk
    Never had much use for Wells who was a racist and a eugenicist and, for all his reputation as a free thinker, was remarkably conventional. His off hand support of genocide would have damned him for all times if it had been said in German instead of English.

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