Top 10 Influences: #9 – The Island of Doctor Moreau by H. G. Wells
#10 – Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott
#9 – The Island of Doctor Moreau, H. G. Wells
I remember reading three books by H.G. Wells when I was a kid.
The Time Machine was a fun book. There is, of course, a lot more to it than that, but when I first read it the questions of class and the structures that humans have built in our cultures didn’t grab me. Instead, I saw it (as I see a lot of time travel stories) as my entry into thinking about time travel paradoxes. So, yeah, that’s fun. But that was about it.
And as far as the War of the Worlds goes, well … let’s just day I was let down by it, probably because I had heard all the freaky-cool stories about the radio broadcast in the 1930s and the mayhem that followed it. I’m pretty sure I came to it wanting me some of that feeling. So, while the story is actually pretty good, the aura of the whole thing paled in comparison to my lofty expectations (for what it’s worth, I still really enjoy replays of the radio broadcast itself, the few times I’ve heard them).
But, The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Now here’s a story that grabbed me by the gut. I remember reading it at night while sitting in bed. I remember feeling the cautionary element of the tale clearly—perhaps it was my first truly cautionary tale, or at least the first one that I really fell into. But, looking back on it, my reaction to this book defines a lot about who I am, because what others would consider as the cautionary aspect of the story are not what I see as the cautionary element. For most it seems the cautionary aspect of the story is about the use of science. But I see the cautionary aspect of the story as being about human nature. It’s the book I can look back on that first did the job of describing the mindset that exists around human atrocities, and the essence of what it might mean to be fighting against something that is unrelenting, and is staunchly evil.
So, instead of seeing it as a cautionary diatribe against science, I saw it as a story about what man will do to man, and in the end I saw it as the story of one many fighting a world that he can not control, and that he will not let control him.
As I get … uh … more experienced, I see this is still the case. Scientific progress is inevitable, humanity’s ability to change itself is going to happen. But what will define us is how we treat each other, how we view each other as human beings whether we can truly understand them or not. While I would never be so bold as to say that any of my work fits on the shelf with The Island of Doctor Moreau, I can say that this feeling has painted itself into several of my pieces. Stories like “Echoes in the Shattering Silence” (Artemis, 2001), “Operation Hercules” (2013), and a comedic “Barnstorming” (Leading Edge, 2001) come to mind, as all of them deal with the clashing of humans and other creatures or other cultures.
As a post-note, I thought it was particularly cool that the TV series Orhpan Black used the book as an integral part of their plot. It made me smile. That is one smart series.