I have been asked to read two stories from the science fiction genre and discuss and comment on the similarities and differences. The two stories that I have read are; The Case of the Stolen Bacillus by H. G. Wells and The Half Pair by Bertrum Chandler. Both of these stories are of the same genre, but science fiction is difficult to define. In order for me to complete this essay, and compare the two stories to their full extent, I feel that I must comprehend what ‘science fiction’ means and what makes a good science fiction story.
Different writers have their own definitions. I have chosen two, which I believe to express simple but different views. Ray Bradbury’s definition states; “Science fiction is really sociological studies of the future, things that the writer believes are going to happen by putting two and two together. ” Whereas Bruce H. Franklin said; “In fact, one good working definition of science fiction may be the literature which, growing with science and technology, evaluates it and relates it meaningfully to the rest of human existence.
Both of these definitions are comprehensive and frequently used, although, we have to recognise that they represent the writer’s own opinions and are therefore subjective. Although the definitions vary, and are influenced from different sources, they could prove useful in considering the likeness of the stories to the definitions and provide a good framework for assessing them. Studying definitions is not the only way to classify the stories as being ‘good science fiction’.
There are main elements which all ‘good’ science fiction stories contain that fit into the science fiction genre. They are set in the future, contain a moral and there are often twists in the plots. Usually the human behaviour is determined by the era in which it was written. By both comparing the stories to the main elements and the definitions I shall be able to consider the factors of each story that provide good science fiction. I feel that to help me with the task set it is necessary to know background information about the author’s and the time of their writing.
The author’s upbringing and way of life before and during novel writing is one very important factor that I have to consider when making comparisons between the stories. It is very clear when reading both, that they have been heavily influenced by previous experiences encountered, as well as their general perception of the world around them. Both writers are also heavily influenced by the era in which they grew up and lived, there are many references to aspects unique to these times, as well as to aspects in which each author is opinionated on.
These influences affect the way the stories are written as well as the way the characters behave and the language that is used. The influences are shown in many ways throughout both stories. ‘The Case of the Stolen Bacillus was written by H. G. Wells. He was born in 1866 into the cramped life of Victorian lower middle class of Bromley, Kent. Due to unfortunate circumstances involving his father, at the age of thirteen H. G. Wells was sent to work in a drapers shop. His passion for science grew as he got older and he frequently sneaked off to the library to study.
His hard work finally paid off when he won a scholarship to study science at the Imperial College, London. It was during his time here where H. G. Wells became increasingly concerned with social justice and got involved with the Fabian society. This society encouraged Wells’s belief in the socialist movement, which sought to bring about a fairer society by planning a gradual system of reforms. ‘The Case of the Stolen Bacillus’ is set, as well as written, in Victorian England, so consequently the story portrays England in a different way from which we know it today.
This way of living provoked many different beliefs and ideas on issues that may seem controversial today. One aspect that Wells put across through his story is that of male dominance. At the time when the story was written and set, males were seen to be superior to the women, and were therefore treated with more respect and authority. The main role of women was seen to be bringing up of children and housekeeping. Wells has included references of this within the story by the way he has portrayed the relationship between Minnie and her husband.
This is shown in one particular conversation when Minnie is asked a question by her husband, she politely replies, ‘Nothing, dear, because I remember… ‘ However, she is interrupted abruptly by her husband, which is a typical example of how much respect husbands and wives had of each other during that era. Present within this period was a definite system of class and position within society, with three main sectors; the lower class, the middle class and the upper class. The lower class categorized the poorest in society, and was the lowest group in the system.
Nowadays it is often referred to as the working class which reflects the nature of the people within it, who often worked in industry or were unemployed and lived in the terraced slums around a city. The middle class were seen by the Victorians as a group with a higher position within society. They were given more respect compared with the lower class, however were not as rich as the upper class. The upper class were a group defined for the richest in society that consisted mainly of the local gentry.
Throughout Wells’s story there are many references to the class system, most expressing subtle stereotypical views. Due to his beliefs as a socialist he did not agree with the class system and these heavily influence the story as his opinions are reflected many times throughout. Wells uses ingenious techniques to put across his opinions skilfully without being too direct. He often uses subtle mocking of characters that display stereotypical behaviour of a certain class. We can tell this from the speeches of the cab driver and the bacteriologist.
The cab driver is stereotypically portrayed as a lower class Victorian man who has not been educated very well. This is evident when he says, ‘That’s ‘Arry ‘Ilks. Wots he got? ‘ The way Wells writes the cabman’s speech implies that all cabmen are of his calibre. Wells therefore suggests that all cab drivers are not well spoken and educated. Another character which Wells stereotypes, is the bacteriologist. Wells portrays him as a middle class man and a typical scientist, he says when talking to the Anarchist, ‘Here is the living thing. This is the cultivation of the actual living disease bacteria.
This shows that he is a well-spoken character from a well-educated background. He is portrayed as a typical scientist due to the manner in which he behaves. Wells creates his character to seem rather eccentric and lively, this is shown when he reacts instantly and without thinking, when he finds out that the cholera has been stolen. By stereotyping different classes, it is possible that Wells’s intention was not to be making fun of the lower class, but mocking the upper class people for treating others less prominent in society the way they do.
The Background regarding the Half Pair is very different from The Case of the Stolen Bacillus, even though they both aim to produce a good piece of science fiction writing. Arthur Bertrum Chandler, born in 1912, wrote the Half Pair. Although born in Aldershot, UK he is usually considered as an Australian author. Over half his life was spent at sea on a British tramp steamer and then finally joined the Union Steam Ship of New Zealand. During these passages at sea, he wrote many of his novels, however he retired in 1975 but continued to write until his death.
This piece of science fiction writing was written in 1957, but set many years in the future. There are many references to the 1950’s within the story as well as futuristic ideas. This is evident when the wife includes within her speech references to everyday chores relating to the 1950’s, such as making dinner, as well as futuristic ideas of space. She says, ‘Since when can I do without gravity – even though a centrifugal force – in the gallery? You’ve ruined dinner. ‘
Wells often includes within this story speeches that reflect upon the time of writing as well as including ideas that would have been seen as very futuristic, but not as significant nowadays. Another aspect of this story that has been influenced by the author’s way of life is the constant references that are made to his time spent at sea. The main setting for the story is a space ship, which is probably done because the author is used to spending time onboard ships and there are therefore many references in the use of language and descriptions to that of a boat.
Although set on a space ship, the story is described with many similarities to that of a boat. References such as the use of the word ‘chandler’, which is used when referring to the place where the characters bought their equipment. “When you get back to mars demand a survey of all the equipment sold by Sorenson the ship chandler” The Half Pair and The Case of the Stolen Bacillus, both fit into the science fiction genre but are completely different in content and ideas. However, there are some similarities such as the elements that make up a science fiction story.
One of the noticeable differences between the two stories is the time scale. The Half Pair is written in the 1950’s, but set far into the future, whereas The Case of the Stolen Bacillus is set and written in the Victorian era. This proves vital in the type of story that is produced, as different eras had different views on English way of life as many things had changed since the Victorian era. This is shown in the two stories by the way the writers express themselves and include references to daily life i. e. the references to nautical terms in Half Pair and references to class in Stolen Bacillus.
During the 1950’s there was seen to be more freedom within society, which was less inhibited by the class structure that had nearly been abolished. This is one of the biggest differences between the two stories backgrounds, however there are similarities. Although the class system was comparatively non-existent at the time of Half Pair’s writing there are still small references to the belief that men were more prominent than women in society. This is evident in Half Pair by the way the wife is stereotypically portrayed as a housewife. An example occurs as she makes dinner for her husband.
Bertrum Chandler has also created some humour in regards to the roles of men and women in society. Both the husband a wife have a conversation which makes light of the small belief that men had a greater position within life, but it also shows how women had gained a lot more respect in society and were not as dominated by their husbands. This is shown in a particular conversation between the husband and wife, where the wife says, ‘ Some women are fools enough to trust their husbands. They’re the ones who haven’t learned the hard way, the same way I did.
The husband replies, ‘Some men are fools enough to kid themselves that their wives have an elementary knowledge of pluming. ‘ The writer’s backgrounds are totally different, and consequently, as I have shown, the stories differ greatly as a result. Another aspect of the stories which is affected due to the writers backgrounds, are the plots. Although from the same genre the plots differ extensively. The Case of the Stolen Bacillus’s main plot involves an amateur bacteriologist who receives a visit from an undercover anarchist in Victorian London.
The anarchist who is nothing other than a stranger to the bacteriologist pretends to be interested in his work and asks to see ongoing experiments. The naive bacteriologist takes the opportunity to boast about his investigation into the newly discovered disease of cholera. The anarchist (now identified by the bacteriologist) steals the cholera bacteria, with plans to release the cholera bacteria into the cities water supply with the intention of infecting the whole city. This incident provokes a cab chase involving the bacteriologist pursuing the anarchist who unintentionally breaks the tube containing the cholera.
Consequently, the anarchist drinks the solution as he sees this as the only resort and proceeds to walk round the streets bumping into people with the hope of them catching and spreading the disease. The outcome of this contains a twist within the plot for the reader’s as the anarchist turns blue. It is revealed that the solution was not cholera, but a disease that turns monkeys blue. The Half Pair differs completely in regards to the plot and is set in future outer space. Its main plot is created by a pair of cuff links and a couple who live onboard a space ship.
The cuff links begin the story by one being lost, this is due to being washed down the sink into the ships disposal system and excreted into outer space. This causes certain unease with the couple who seem to be partial to the pair of cuff links. The man decides that he wants to venture into space to retrieve it, although it becomes evident that it is a two person task. The man has no-one to enter space with because his wife has a phobia of space suits, he therefore goes alone. This results in havoc as he runs out of oxygen and his lifeline snaps.
The last part of the story contains a twist, as the reader believes that the man is destined for death as he passes out and begins to float into space, however his wife overcomes her phobia and saves him. The plots of these stories contain many techniques that induce the reader to continue reading. The way the climaxes are built up in each story has a major effect on how dramatic they are. In the Stolen Bacillus the climax is built up gradually, Wells does this in two main sections. He firstly creates and air of expectation for the reader which involves the anticipation of a London catastrophe and what the anarchist could do.
The tension slowly rises and builds up to the chase sequence, where the anarchist is trying to escape. The climax is resolved with a twist in the plot that also has an effect as an anticlimax. The Half Pair however, contains a slightly more subtle climax. It is built up around a couple having an argument in a domestic situation; the argument causes the tension to build up gradually until the husband finds himself floating around in space in trouble. It is not as dramatic as the climax in The Stolen Bacillus, but resolves itself with a rather cliched ‘happy ending’.
Both of the stories climaxes are used to maintain the readers interest and I believe that both are effective as the reader is wondering what is going to happen next in many sections. In the past, at the time of writing, another aspect that would have helped to keep readers attention would have been the way that in both stories the writer has included ideas and objects which the readers could have related to ‘the then’ present day. Nowadays this could also possibly help the interest levels of the reader as they are finding out a different way of life giving a historical perspective of the story.
This applies more so to The Stolen Bacillus, as it is further into the past. Both stories are similar in the fact that they contain twists, where the reader is lead to believe a different outcome up till close to the end where it is dramatically twisted another way round. The twist in the Stolen Bacillus was an anticlimax. I believe this was reasonably effective as it created some tension as a result of the possible damage which the anarchist could have caused. It also added humour, which may or may not have been Wells’s intention, but I believe is effective.
The twist used in The Half Pair is used to create an ending that lasts in your mind. When you find out that the wife has saved her husband it comes as a surprise, which adds excitement to the story. In both plots the main story line involves items going missing i. e. the bacteria and the cuff links, this is another similarity between the stories. Another aspect that makes the stories similar is how they both contain ideas and technology relevant to the era when it was written. The Case of the Stolen Bacillus was written at a time when the UK was rife with many epidemics such as cholera.
These diseases, at the time, were not thoroughly known about, so many scientists would have been investigating and researching them. At the time when Half Pair was written, men in space, and space travel was a new idea that was being discovered. Although this is a similarity it can also be a difference as each story has been influenced by a different time of history. Characters are a major feature in stories and contain a strong link between the plots, and the morals and messages they are preaching.
In both stories there is a great similarity in the fact that that they both have couples as the main characters. The Stolen Bacillus however, contains another prominent role played as an anarchist as well as also having minor characters included within it. This differs from The Half Pair, as within this story there are no other characters apart from the couple. Both Wells’s story and Chandler’s stories were of a short length, which means that the authors had a confined amount of time to create and develop characters.
Consequently we see in both stories very strong characters displaying strong personalities. In The Case of the Stolen Bacillus there are three prominent characters, the anarchist, The Bacteriologist and Minnie, his wife. Wells uses many techniques to display these three characters in certain ways to try and create a vivid image for readers. I feel that Wells intended for the anarchist to be portrayed as a villain and he uses dialogue, imagery and atmosphere to show this. Wells describes the anarchist a ‘pale faced man’ and as having ‘deep grey eyes’.
This dull imagery gives the impression to the reader that the man is up to no good and it is backed up with the language which he uses to suggest that the anarchist is a ‘baddy’. It is particularly evident that Wells is trying to conjure up a bad image for the anarchist when the anarchist says, ‘death – mysterious, untraceable death, death swift and terrible, death full of pain and indignity would be released on this city. ‘ Although I believe Wells tries to conjure up a picture regarding the anarchist as a villain, I feel that he is more successful in creating a character that appears to be ignorant.
Wells probably intentionally does this, as he tries to make fun of anarchism and through mocking the anarchist he can achieve this and express his opinions to the readers. This is shown when he says, ‘These Anarchist – rascals, are fools, blind fools – to use bombs when this kind of thing is attainable. ‘ The Bacteriologist is another prominent character in Stolen Bacillus, however very different in personality. Wells portrays him, very stereotypically, as a boastful amateur scientist who wants to appear to be very intellectual.
Wells uses the speeches between characters to portray this, especially in is opening speech when he says, ‘ This again, is a preparation of the celebrated Bacillus of Cholera – the cholera germ. ‘ The reader discovers later on in the story that the scientist was leading the anarchist on, and realises that the bacteria wasn’t actually cholera. This shows that the character of the scientist is maybe not so stereotypical as Wells first makes out. Although, Wells does included some very stereotypical behaviour regarding the relationships between The Bacteriologist and his wife, Minnie.
As I have said before, Minnie is put across as being a typical Victorian housewife, very trustworthy, proper and correct. She abides completely by her husband and is very loyal to him as well as to the rules of the time. This part of Victorian society is shown by Wells when Minnie is keen to make sure that her husband does not leave the house without his hat and coat, as it was seen to be disrespectful in these times. It is shown using dialogue, by Wells when the wife is shocked about the fact that her husband has left not properly dressed and she says, But running around London – in the height of the season, too – in his socks! ‘ Included in the plot of Stolen Bacillus are other minor characters which all have their significances in some way even though they do not have a large part to play. The cab drivers are an example of this. As I have said earlier Wells stereotypes them and portrays them as lower class, using dialogue to help illustrate this. I have also noticed that Wells does not name the bacteriologist or the anarchist, he just labels them or describes them, which is probably done to emphasises their characters.
The structure regarding the characters in the Half Pair differs in comparison with The Stolen Bacillus as The Half Pair only contains two characters. These prominent characters however, do have similarities between the main characters in The Stolen Bacillus. Similarly to The Stolen Bacillus, in The Half Pair there is a husband and wife as main characters. In The Half Pair the couple remains nameless, similarly to the Anarchist and the bacteriologist in The Stolen Bacillus, the only prominent character to be given a name in either story was Minnie, the bacteriologists wife.
The relationships between the two couples in both stories are similar, however they also differ because of the different time of writing. As I have said earlier, The Stolen Bacillus represents a Victorian relationship between Minnie and her husband, which is rife with the idea of male dominance. I also believe that there are some references to this type of behaviour in The Half Pair even though it is set much later on in time. There are some elements of the behaviour between the couple in The Half Pair that also suggest that the wife is dominated by her husband.
This behaviour is certainly not to the same extent as the in The Stolen Bacillus, and we also find that it is actually the husband in The Half Pair who is trying to abide to rules of good manners and not lower his standards when he says, “We agreed that we weren’t going to let ourselves lapse, get sloppy……… The drinks straight from the bottle and the food straight from the can” In comparing the characters in each story I feel that Wells conjures up stronger, more meaningful ones that are rife with personality.
One way in which both authors have created and defined characters is by carefully selecting the language and dialogue that they use. The language used in each story is different because of the eras they were written in. The Case of the Stolen Bacillus is harder to read and comprehend, due to the changes in English language, between the Victorian era and present day, although it demonstrates the correct manner of speaking at its time of writing. The Stolen Bacillus frequently uses scientific terminology, to make the story more convincing to the reader.
Wells uses relatively simple scientific descriptions such as ‘cholera’, as to not make the story to complicated. In Wells’s story there were not many futuristic descriptions as it was set at a similar time to writing and was mainly based upon something that hadn’t happened yet. Bertrum Chandler also includes scientific terminology in his story, The Half Pair. The content however is more futuristic and complicated. This is because the author is trying to predict the future and to do so needs to include advanced ideas. For example Chandler uses descriptions such as ‘centrifugal force’.
The dialogue present in each story demonstrates more clearly many of the characters personalities. I feel that throughout both stories the dialogue is convincing although there are some elements which I feel were not as believable. For example I feel that in The Stolen Bacillus Wells might have over exaggerated the relationship between Minnie and The Bacteriologist. He achieved this by including speeches between the couple where Minnie simply agreed with everything her husband said, she often used the phrase ‘yes dear’.
I feet that this became humorous throughout the story as she behaved completely different around her husband than anyone else. Wells probably expressed her character in this way in order to emphasise the stereotypical Victorian female role she plays. The dialogue in The Half Pair seems to be more like the present way of speaking. This is because the characters tended to speak in a more colloquial fashion, with not much use of complicated words and the sarcasm used is more relevant to today’s society. An example of sarcasm is when she says, “Anyone would think that you’d lost the Crown Jewels”
There are many different ideas within both stories that contain morals and messages that the authors are trying to put across. In The Case of the Stolen Bacillus there are many interlinked morals, messages and ideas. Wells focuses intently on stereotyping individuals and groups of people of the time. This is done so that the messages which he puts across can be stronger, and also, so that he can subtly mock different people. One idea where Wells used this technique was when he referred to the class system, however he did this less obviously and consequently the message is not as strong.
Wells also stereotyped The Bacteriologist as being a ‘typical’ amateur scientist. His idea is put across in the story so that Wells can warn people about the risks of bacteriological research. Wells probably wants to warn people as he studied science and realises the risks and may be angered by the way amateurs have the responsibilities of investigating bacteria. Another one of the main ideas that Wells expresses in his story is that of Anarchy, and how it doesn’t fit in with society.
He mocks anarchy, and I believe that he is trying to say that anarchists are not necessarily fighting for a cause, but just trying to get attention. Wells shows this in the story due to the failure of the anarchists plan, and how the anarchist believes he can spread cholera by bumping into people, which seems laughable in today’s society and to a certain extent the Victorian society. I feel that this message is effective but it is only towards the end of the story that the reader realises that Wells is subtly trying to mock anarchy. The Half Pair differs from Wells’s story, as it only appears to put across one main message.
I feel that Chandler uses the pair of cufflinks to illustrate his message, ‘loved ones are more important than trivial things – don’t take them for granted’. Chandler’s use of the cufflinks is very ingenious and they link the message to the story. The cufflinks at the beginning the play are seen as very important to the man, however towards the end, when his life is a risk, the cufflinks become rather insignificant. Chandler ends the story in a very ingenious way, as the message is only revealed to the reader at the very end of the story when the wife says, ‘I do so hate a half pair of anything – and I don’t mean only cufflinks! ‘
This last line of the story is also clever, as it links it together with the first line of the play, and gives the whole story and the message some significance. Another smaller message which I believe Chandler may be putting across is that ‘ people will always have the same sorts of problems thoughts and feelings, no matter what the day and age’. Overall I believe that Chandler is trying to say that however much our world changes in the future, relationships and love will still be of upmost importance, and no matter what, couples will still have to overcome mundane problems even with a technologically advanced world around them.
I believe that both stories are effective in putting across messages, however Wells includes more, and preaches them more subtly. In The Stolen Bacillus, the messages are there, but you have to look for them. The Half Pair messages tended to be simpler and easier to understand, but this is probably due to myself, the reader finding the story easier to comprehend as they relate to modern day more so than in The Stolen Bacillus. Although in today’s society The Half Pair is easier to relate to, I feel that both of the stories relate their messages and content to the societies in which they were written.
In comparing the two stories I have found many differences and similarities, however I now have to consider whether each of them are examples of good science fiction. I stated at the beginning of this essay, some definitions of science fiction and elements which writing of the science fiction genre should have. I have looked at each story against the definitions and elements of science fiction, and have seen how they have corresponded. I feel that both stories fit into the science fiction genre and they both contain most of the elements which a good piece of ‘sci-fi’ writing does.
The Case of The Stolen Bacillus contains a moral and a twist but it is not set in the future, however it does contain ‘futuristic ideas’. The Half Pair appears to contain all of the elements which I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, however I don’t believe that they have been expressed as well as in Wells’s story. Each story also tries to put meaningful messages across to a reader of the time of writing, although I believe that these messages are still applicable in society today.
The twists in both stories are reasonably effective. I found that in The Case of the Stolen Bacillus the twist was not as well written, and therefore not as effective. Although each story differs in how well they correspond to the element of science fiction, a factor that suggests that both of these pieces are good science fiction writing is that they correlate strongly to the definitions given by Ray Bradbury and Bruce H. Franklin.