Literary Spin-offs: H. G. Wells
Posted by: David Pitt
It’s probably safe to assume you’re aware of the myriad Sherlock Holmes stories written by people who are not, strictly speaking, Arthur Conan Doyle. Or the James Bond novels by writers who bear not even a passing resemblance to Ian Fleming.
Those are probably the most famous literary spin-offs, but they’re hardly the only ones. From time to time we’ll talk about some interesting — and perhaps lesser-known – literary spin-offs, such as these: a compelling science fiction novel and a hilarious comic fantasy inspired by H. G. Well’s The War of the Worlds.
The Space Machine (1976), by British science fiction author Christopher Priest, is set in 1893. Edward Turnbull, a travelling salesman, is captivated by a beautiful young woman. After he discovers that the woman is associated with a well-known inventor, Edward gets caught up in an adventure that involves, among other things, an interplanetary war…one that a fellow by the name of Wells will later chronicle.
The book isn’t a prequel to The War of the Worlds, and it’s not a “re-imagining.” It covers some of the same events, but from a different perspective; Priest explores, for example, the Martian culture and the motives behind the invasion of Earth. And, as you might expect from the book’s title, he also works in elements from The Time Machine, too.
Robert Rankin’s The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and other Unnatural Attractions (2010) more closely approximates a sequel to Wells’ novel. Okay, that’s a bald-faced lie: the book takes place in 1895, shortly after the events chronicled in The War of the Worlds, but Rankin, the world’s most excellent writer of far-fetched fiction, uses Wells’ novel as a jumping-off point for a story about a British invasion of Mars, Venusian missionaries, a shady carnival huckster, and a rather naive young lad who falls in love with a woman who — well, let’s just say she isn’t what she seems.
It will come as no surprise to Rankin’s fans that the book features wildly inventive dialogue, running gags, blatant chronological incongruities (history says several of the cast’s real-life characters died before 1895, but obviously history is wrong), and a convoluted plot that gleefully defies summary. Rankin isn’t just the best of the British comic fantasy novelists; he’s the best in the English language.
Do you have your own favorite literary spin-offs? Let us know about them.