What H.G. Wells Got Wrong When He Predicted the Atomic Bomb

Illustration for article titled What H.G. Wells Got Wrong When He Predicted the Atomic Bomb

What science fiction writers get wrong is at least as important as what they get right, argued legendary physicist Lawrence Krauss in his talk at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago. In particular, H.G. Wells predicted the atomic bomb — but he made a crucial error.


According to Red Orbit, Krauss talked about H. G. Wells' novel The World Set Free, "which is often quoted as a prophetic book":

The novel was published in 1914 and anticipated the development of atomic weapons that would be used in war. Decades before they became a harsh reality in the modern world — and perhaps influencing some of the scientists who created the real weapons — the novel coined the term "atomic bombs."

"Nevertheless not only did Wells' continually burning atomic weapons bear no resemblance to the engines of destruction in the real world," Krauss emphasized, "he thought it would unite the world into one society whereas we are painfully aware that it hasn't changed human thinking, except to divide the world into nuclear haves and have-nots."

"Nevertheless it is instructive, and fun, to compare the 'science' of science fiction with that of the real world," said Krauss, who also is the director of the Origins Project at ASU. "Rather than dwelling on things that don't work, it is fun to explore closely related things in the real world that might work."

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I get the impression there was a lot of optimism during the late 19th and early 20th century about war ending forever due to it becoming so horrible. I suppose the Victorian and Edwardians were very optimistic about the "betterment" of man.

Hopelessly naive optimism if you ask me.