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H.G. Wells and the Liberating Atom

David Seed
Science Fiction Studies
Vol. 30, No. 1 (Mar., 2003), pp. 33-48
Published by: SF-TH Inc
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4241139
Page Count: 16
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H.G. Wells and the Liberating Atom
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Abstract

Although the discovery of radium was promoted by the physicist Frederick Soddy as a major advance in human development, the narratives that describe its application stress its negative and destructive potential. H.G. Wells's The World Set Free writes Soddy into the optimistic phase of the narrative and offers the first fictional account of nuclear war, setting a pattern for more sophisticated subsequent nuclear war novels in that the destructive force of the super-weapon is so massive that it undermines novelists' capacity to produce coherent narratives. This proposition is tested out on a series of postwar writers, including Leo Szilard (who knew Well's original novel), Walter M. Miller, Jr., and Russell Hoban.

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