The man who woke to find he owned the Earth.
Hello! It’s been fast week and as usual I have been quite busy, but here we are at novel 21 of the year The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells. As you can see from the photo my copy of the novel is another Collins Clear Type Press. It included a few painted pages and generally like most of my collection has a wonderful old book smell. Unfortunately I can’t tell you when it was printed but going on that The Sleeper Awakes was first published in 1910, its probably not far behind that.
The novels I’d previously read are The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon but to consider that his body of work is massive, I have read relatively little. But from what I’ve read I really enjoy his work, so Wells is one of those authors I really enjoy looking out for when I’m searching specifically for Collins to add to my collection. But this is the first time Wells has really surprised me! This was a surprisingly apt novel considering the changing political landscape and the EU referendum last week.
I was expecting a science fiction novel, perhaps consisting of a mythical character who has slept long and arises to cause havoc. But in actuality The Sleeper Awakes is a dystopian science fiction novel that follows a man who falls asleep in Victorian England and awakes 200 years later. Not only does he wake 200 years later, but he wakes to find that he, by sheer coincidence, that he is now Owner and Master of the Earth. His financial estate has grown and the White Council who oversee his affairs whilst he is asleep have ultimately come into control of the Earth’s greatest financial asset.
The White Council have used some of Graham’s vast wealth to establish a vast political and economic world order. At the point Graham wakes, the Council place Graham under house arrest, unsure what to do with him. Meanwhile the people of the city are in excited revolution, as the Sleeper has finally awoken! There is great lore and myth around the fabled Sleeper, although Graham doesn’t know it, the world has changed beyond his Victorian Sensibilities. His questions go unanswered until a group of rebels from the outside rescue him, claiming the White Council are plotting to kill him.
Unconvinced but unwilling to remain a prisoner, Graham leaves and arrives in the confusion of rebellion. Separated from his rescuers he questions an old man who explains the story of the Sleeper. The White Council invested his wealth to buy industries and political entities of half the world. Ultimately establishing a Plutocracy and sweeping away parliament and monarchy. The Sleeper himself is just a figurehead and quite innocent in the implementation of any sort of power that has been gathered to his name.
Graham finally meets Ostrog the leader of the rebels, who has unseated the White Council. Ostrog retains power whilst Graham explores a brief carefree existence and knowledge that is abundant and strange to him. This carefree interlude ends when Graham is told that the lower classes still suffer regardless of the revolution. Graham investigates this new social order himself and finds Slavery is the backbone of the city, the family unit is broken, religion is akin to advertising, euthanasia is particularly common and the elderly few, and pleasure cities of unspecified joys are readily available.
As surprising as it was, I enjoyed this novel, it is not my favourite dystopian novel, but it certainly gives food for thought on some of the more recent novels I’ve read lately. The Factions in Divergent for example, are similar to the social divisions within The Sleeper Awakes. Two other comparisons on the general feel of the novel are 1984 (Orwell) and Brave New World (Huxley).
More than anything reading this novel has really reinforced to me just how much I would like to read more of this body of work. This is certainly a novel that provided a bizarre handshake to current affairs and it’s very likely I’ll return to it.