American born, also known as William Menzies. Main career as production designer but also active as director, producer. Responsible for set and costumes of Gone with the Wind (1939). Most successful work as director was Things to Come (1936). Also directed Chandu the Magician (1932); Drums in the Deep South (1951) 2 friends who love the same girl fight on opposite sides of the Civil War; Invaders from Mars (1953) SF classic about boy who warns about invaders but is not believed.


H.G. Wells' "future history" The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution (1932-33), ed. John Hammond (London: J.M. Dent, 1993).

H.G. Wells (1866-1946)

Herbert George Wells son of a shopkeeper, apprentice draper, school teacher. Studied biology under T.H. Huxley from whom he absorbed Darwin's theory of evolution. Wrote textbooks and scientific journalism before turning to "science fiction" in which he explored social implications of Darwinianism and possibilities for reform of contemporary society. Joined Fabian Society 1903-08 and wrote a number of socialist novels such as The Sleeper Awakes (1899) in which socialist technocratic elite rule society. During WW1 active in League of Nations movement. Between wars active in encouraging world leaders (Stalin and Roosevelt) to follow his ideas to save the world from destruction.

HGW noted for the accuracy of many of his predictions about technology (tanks, air warfare, atomic bombs) and his interest in the social consequences of the new kind of warfare made possible by these weapons. His conclusion was that out of the ashes of the old world destroyed by war would rise phoenix-like a new world order base upon a just, technocratically ruled world state. HGW welcomed outbreak of WW1 because he believed Utopian restructuring of world only possible after catastrophe brought about by war. Increasingly disillusioned after 1918. By 1945 in Mind at the End of its Tether HGW forced to conclude that man unable or unwilling to adapt to demands made by technology.

Most famous works:

  • The Time Machine (1895) - humanity divided into two races ("the gentle Eloi and the bestial Morlocks" engaged in Darwinian struggle.
  • The War of the Worlds (1898) - interplanetary version of TM. Martian invasion of earth. More advanced Martians covet earth's resources. Based upon model of European dispossession of Tasmanian aborigines.
  • "The Land Ironclads" (1903) - predicted use of tanks
  • The War in the Air (1907) - before Blériot had flown across Channel and when Zeppelin airships still experimental, HGW predicted flying machines will transform war from that of "fronts" to one of "areas", great air battles, destruction of cities from the air, collapse of trade, spread of epidemics. Made link between booming economy and capacity of society to afford cost of armaments.
  • The World Set Free (1913) - clever predictions about discovery of atomic energy in 1953 leading to atomic warfare in 1959 (Wells created expression of "atomic bomb"); scientific and technological developments making "separate sovereign states and separate sovereign empires" unnecessary and out of date. HGW idea of world government to replace states and ensure peace and progress. Nuclear proliferation and war in late 1950s. Predicted stragetic theory of "use them or loose them".
  • The Shape of Things to Come (1933) sequel to The Work, Wealth and Happiness of Mankind (1931) - program for how Wellsian utopia might be achieved in form of future history from 2106 AD as dreamed by Dr Philip Raven, diplomat in the League of Nations Secretariat (who died in 1930).

I>The Shape of Things to Come

Divided into 5 "books".

Book I - 1914-1933. "The Age of Frustration" HGW gives a socialist interpretation of the post-war period.

Book II - 1933-1960. After an abortive World Economic Conference in London 1933 world enters period of conflict and chaos. Rise of totalitarian govts in Germany, Italy, Russia. Increasing breakdown of religion and education. Rise of organised crime in USA. Arms race between the great powers. In 1935 Japan invades China. In 1937 US enters war by attacking Japanese Navy in the Pacific. In 1940 the European War breaks out as a result of an incident between a Jew and a Nazi in Danzig. By 1950 Europe is in ruins, US and UK are bankrupt. In 1955-6 an epidemic kills half the world's population and we enter a new Dark Age.

Book III - 1960-1978. World Renascence and birth of a world state. Emergence of an elite of "technical revolutionaries" (scientists, engineers, aviators, businessmen). In 1965 1st Basra Conference which creates Air and Sea Control - a world-wide police and communications network, new economic system with no private property, monopoly of commerce by Air Sea Control. In 1978 World Council or Global Government created.

Book IV - 1978-2059. In 1978 2nd Basra Conference creates World State or World Council. Act of Uniformity closes down churches and one faith established. In 2000 resistance to uniformity results in Air Dictatorship and Puritan Tyranny. Renewed flourishing of technology - end of disease, the Sahara desert blooms. In 2059 opposition to World State by artist Ariston Theotocopulos at Mégene Conference leads to withering away of World Council. Now no need for any government. End of Age of Frustration.

Book V - After 2059. Well's vision of Utopia. Harmony established between man and nature. Cleaning of the environment. Social and sexual prohibitions and inhibitions removed. Literature and arts flourish. Biological transformation (evolution) of the human species. Individuals gradually become "tentacles" of a "single organism."

Wells Predicting the Future: "I told you so!"

When WW2 broke out in 1939 HGW still saw war in a positive light, as a means to destroy the forces which hampered human development. But in preface to 1940 edition of The War in the Air HGW said his epitaph should be: "when the time comes, will manifestly have to be: 'I told you so. You damned fools.'"

The historian of imaginary future wars, Clarke, comments on the failure of novelists before WW1 (with a few exceptions like Wells) to predict the future accurately:

Although the contemporary interest in adventure provided the motive for many of these stories, there were quite different reasons behind the other types of the imaginary war as they developed in this period. Many of the stories fall into distinctive categories. They were deliberately shaped by their authors to present a military or naval forecast, to teach a political lesson, or to give a demonstration of scientific marvels still to come. And they were all so taken up with the shape of "the next great war", as it was so often called, that they had no space to display any interest in peace, except by way of conquest and the domination of other peoples. This is the one great ironic fact that must strike every reader who comes to these stories with a knowledge of what has happened since the First World War. The period from the 1880s to the long-expected outbreak of the war in 1914 saw the emergence of the greatest number of these tales of coming conflicts ever to appear in European fiction. Save for rare exceptions, they are distinguished by a complete failure to foresee the form a modern war would take. The slaughter of the trenches, the use of poison gas, the immense damage caused by submarines, the very scale of a world-wide industrialized war were mercifully hidden from the admirals, generals, politicians, and popular novelists who joined in the enterprise of predicting what was going to happen. (p. 64)

In the epilogue to his novel, The Shape of Things to Come: The Ultimate Revolution (1933) H.G. Wells wrote:

If this is neither a dream book nor a sybylline history, then it is a theory of world revolution. Plainly the thesis is that history must now continue to be a string of accidents with an increasingly disastrous trend until a comprehensive faith in the modernized World-State, socialistic, cosmopolitan and creative, takes hold of the human imagination. When the existing governments and ruling theories of life, the decaying religious and the decaying political terms of to-day, have sufficiently lost prestige through failure and catastrophe, then and then only will world-wide reconstructuion be possible. And it must needs be the work, first of all, of an aggressive order of religiously devoted men and women who will try out and establish and impose a new pattern of living upon our race.



  • Raymond Massey - the grandfather, John Cabal, and the grandson, Oswald Cabal
  • Cedric Hardwicke
  • Ralph Richardson - "Boss" Rudolf
  • Maurice Braddell
  • Ann Todd
  • Edward Chapman - the grandfather Piper Passworthy, and the grandson, Raymund
  • ? - Roxanna
  • ? - The Sculptor
  • Music by Arthur Bliss
  • Screenplay - H.G. Wells

Film in three parts:

  • 1940-65 - 1940 start of world war for inhabitants of Everytown, new feudal age by 1960 as a result of social breakdown
  • 1965-70s - new "black death" plague 1967; stability by 1970, society destroyed by war ruled by feudal bosses until arrival/rescue by an "airman"
  • 2036-40 AD technocratic elites have created utopian underground society and are preparing to explore space (moon)

Frank McConnell discusses Wells' assistance in the making of the film Things to Come:

During 1935, Wells was to carry the warning vision of his last major prophecy into an art that had always fascinated him but for which he had never written: the film. For British producer Alexander Korda, he wrote a screenplay, Things to Come, which collapses the wide-ranging social and political theory of The Shape of Things to Come into a dramatic story that carries much of the original book's power. The major details of the book are recapitualted: the Second War breaks out and destroys civilization (with some startlingly prophetic scenes anticipating the carnage and destruction only four years off in Europe): the reign of the airmen brings order and civilization again to Earth and finally issues in an idyllic, scientifically administered world state... Directed by William Cameron Menzies, the film opened in 1936. It is a land-mark in the hisotry of science fiction in the cinema, both in intellectual content and in the dazzling achievement of its special effects, which defined the state of the art for many years to come. (pp. 212-3)


H.G. Wells: Journalism and Prophecy, 1893-1946, ed. W. Warren Wagar (London: The Bodley Head, 1964). "War in the Twentieth Century," pp. 24-31; "Atomic Bombs," pp. 36-38; "The War in the Air," pp. 39-42; "Decadent World," pp. 176-80.

I.F. Clarke, Voices Prophecying War: Future Wars 1763-3749 (Oxford University Press, 1992. Second edition). Chap. 3 "Science and the Shape of Wars-to-Come, 1880-1914," pp. 57-92.

Frank McConnell, The Science Fiction of H.G. Wells (Oxford University Press, 1981). Chap. 6 "Outlines for History: The Later Wells," pp. 182-218.


1. Theme of clash of 2 forces in human evolution: chaos, irrationality, and barbarism vs order, science, and progress.

2. HGW's Fabian socialism - rule by technocratic elites to bring order to chaotic and selfish world. JC represents "Brotherhood of Efficiency", "Freemasons of Science". Would-be World Government seeks monopoly of air transport and air power (variously called "Wings Over the World", World Communications, New World of United Airmen), independent nation states main threat to world peace (political dinosaurs). Scientific conquest to replace military conquest.

3. The music of Arthur Bliss.

4. Typical neglect in SF work of dialogue and characterization for the sake of ideology and visual effects.

5. The dumb costumes (nothing dates like SF!): JC's huge helmet, everyone in the New World wears Roman togas and miniskirts/hot pants. In the future everyone walks erect and with great purpose.

6. Conceit of seeing events through eyes of 2 men and their descendants. In 1939 successful businessman John Cabel (JC - Jesus Christ?) (Raymond Massey) and complacent friend Piper Passworthy (Ed Chapman). In 2036 great-grandchildren - Oswald and Raymond respectively. Their children in turn travel to moon in projectile.

7. Theme of warning in SF. The discussion between JC and PP about "threatened wars never come" vs "someday a wolf will come". Warnings of war in Europe in mid-1930s.

8. Famous set of futuristic city (compare Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" (1926)); clever miniature models (mining and construction mmachines, delta winged planes, monorails, helicopter, cannon to send projectile to moon)

9. Successful predictions: war to break out in 1940; air attack on London; use of radio to warns civilians; use of tanks; parachutists; mining machines; pre-fabricated construction; TV screens in home, giant TV screens in public spaces; helicopter or VTOL craft; female astronaut)

10. Unsuccessful predictions: gas attacks; war would last 25 years and usher in new feudalism; aviators would take over the government (lawyers perhaps but not aviators); everyone would live underground; everyone would wear togas; wrist phones; first moon landing 30 odd years in future not 100.

11. The small boy playing with his Christmas toy tanks and soldiers. Family listening to radio with reports of "another speech by him" (Hitler?)

12. The problem of whether or not war hinders or stimulates scientific progress (medical research hampered, aviation and weapons advanced). Role of scientists engaged in war-related research (oil, poison gas, aviation). Boss tells his researchers "The state is your mother and your father, the totality of your interests." Aviators develop "gas of Peace" to subdue their enemies (compare Pres. Reagan's despcription of MX missile as "the peace maker").

13. The aristocratic chivalry of the two aviators during the war; the regret of the "German" aviator for having gassed civilians, notes irony of giving little girl his gas mask.

14. The connection between war and social breakdown, epidemics, rise of power of Hitleresque "bosses" or warlords of the "combatant state" (Ralph Richardson plays "The Boss" in post-war Everytown, gives two-handed Nazi salute), continuation of war in struggle for resources (oil) against the Hill People (Hitler's Four Year Plan 1936 to make Germany independent of fuel imports).

15. Debate between advocates of artistic vs scientific life in the future. Should mankind explore space or be satisfied with life on earth? The Sculptor's critique of civilisation, call for rebellion, opposes expansion of mankind into space, Luddite-like march on the space gun. Oswald Cabel concludes "all the universe or nothing, which shall it be?"

16. In spite of nod to feminism with female astronaut (Roxanna), male dominated technocratic society, phallic space gun.