Elif Shafak: How the 21st century would have disappointed HG Wells

Delivering this year’s HG Wells lecture, the author of 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World celebrates the late science fiction author’s dedication to fighting inequality

The first time I got my hands on a book written by HG Wells, I was a student in Turkey. I found an old edition in an arcade of little secondhand shops that I visited often to buy novels and fanzines, and to check the latest heavy metal albums. Its cover stained by damp, its pages slightly tattered, the book showed signs of previous ownership. The First Humans in the Moon, the title read. Later, I would discover that the Turkish translation was gender neutral but that the original, The First Men in the Moon, wasn’t.

At the time, I was not much interested in science fiction. I had purchased the book because it had intrigued me for a reason I could not quite comprehend. But reading it was not a priority. Back then, I was enamoured with Russian literature; Gogol’s Dead Souls and Dostoevsky’s Notes from a Dead House and The Brothers Karamazov had permanently shifted something within me. I wanted to read the kind of literature that dealt with what I saw as “the harsh socio-political realities”. Hence, I underestimated and ignored HG Wells, and his novel remained on my shelf unread and unloved for a long, long while.

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