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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).

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