1904 - The Food of The Gods and How it Came to Earth
1904. Humanity is flexing its muscles. The United States begins construction of the Panama Canal and Henry Ford sets a new land speed record for cars at 147 km/h. In St Louis, you have the first Olympic Games of the 20th century. In New York, you have the first large scale bodybuilding competition. FIFA is established.
Amidst these mighty changes, Herbert George (H. G.) Wells writes a satirical allegory about the inevitable Socialist takeover called The Food of The Gods and How it Came to Earth, a science fiction novel about the discovery of a food substitute that enlarges plants, animals, and human beings to titanic proportions.
H. G. Wells (1866-1946) is an author worthy of his own series of posts. Wells was an English writer, and one of the fathers of modern science fiction, together with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback. Wells’ was a prolific writer who managed to produce dozens of novels and short stories, as well as works of satire, social commentary, biography, two books on war games and his own autobiography. The Wikipedia page on his bibliography is long!
Wells was a futurist with a broad imagination. He predicted how airplanes, tanks, nuclear weapons, space travel, satellite television, and even the world wide web would reshape the world. In 1937, he had already come up with the idea for Wikipedia. Wells thought it would lead to world peace. His imagination also encompassed time travel, alien invasion, invisibility and biological engineering. He expressed these ideas and inventions in several of the utopian and dystopian futures he wrote about.
When it came to politics, Wells was an outspoken Democratic Socialist whose political writing influenced among other things, the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He frequently and unapologetically expressed his politics in his writing. Virginia Woolf berated him for this. However this didn’t stop Winston “Socialism is a philosophy of failure” Churchill from becoming one of Wells’ greatest fans. Wells envisioned a world state in which class distinctions were abolished and who you were born to didn’t matter, and he introduces these ideas in The Food of The Gods and How it Came to Earth.
The book is divided into three parts and tells the story of how two scientists, Mr. Bensington and Professor Redwood, set out to discover a substance that can induce constant growth, end up succeeding beyond their wildest dreams, and then promptly lose control.
In the first part, “The Discovery of the food,” we are introduced to the scientists and their discovery which results in a substance, popularly dubbed as “Boomfood,” that causes all living things to slowly and gradually grow to between six to eight times their normal size. They promptly lose control of the substance which results in a plague of giant wasps, earwigs and rats, and a vine which threatens to destroy their lab. Redwood, before he understands the full consequences, gives the substance to his infant son. As a result of this discovery English society is forced to slowly adapt itself to giant versions of pretty much everything. Because it only accelerates existing growth, the substance only works on children, and not adults who are already fully grown.
The second part, “The food in the village,” part tells the story of how a small English town is forced to adapt to a giant child in its midst, this story is used as a representative sample for what was going on in the entire country. Wells uses this section to poke fun at rural landed gentry and the Church of England.
The third and final part, “The Harvest of the Food,” tells the story of the adult giants who are now forty feet tall, and proportionately strong and smarter as a result. They now need to find their place in the world. At this point in time only a handful of them exist and they are severely outnumbered by regular humans. British society views them as a threat and elects a reactionary politician, Caterham, whose goal is to destroy Boomfood and undo all the changes the substance has made.
The book operates on two levels, and you don’t have to be a Socialist to enjoy them. On the surface this is a very amusing story about how a scientific discovery introduced a new race of giants into the world. On this level, the book succeeded in igniting my imagination as I visualized an Earth in which humanity was divided into two different species. I thought of societies in which people embraced bigness, gave Boomfood to children, and learned to coexist. I wondered what the giants in these societies would build and how human cities would be redesigned. Would there be eugenics programs for creating more giants? What would happen when space travel was discovered, and the giants realize that regular humans would reach the stars first? I also tried to visualize how other societies that rejected gianthood would deal with survival issues as cities and towns were overrun by giant plants and animals, and stray exposure transformed children into perceived monsters – even as neighboring countries who embraced gianthood literally loomed over them. I didn’t realize how badly enlargement was missing as a theme in modern science fiction until I read this book.
The book is also satirizes British society and politics, and Wells injects a lot of British humor into the book to bring his points across. Boomfood is a metaphor for Socialism, an idea so powerful and obvious that it will inevitably take over the world. Anyone who comes into contact with it is immediately taken over by it or ends up being swallowed up the new world order, and while there will be an initial upheaval, the world will be better off as a result (and we’ll all be giants).
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and am seriously considering buying a print copy to add to my library.
The Omer today is eternity in kindness. I would use eternity to describe the book itself as Wells wrote it 115 years ago, and it is as relevant today as it was in 1904. kindness is an attribute that much of British society, as represented in the book, is missing. And it is this attribute that, according to Wells, “Boomfood” AKA socialism will help bring about.