Sydney Fowler-Wright's The World Below will be of interest to those who wish to explore the influence of Wells' scientific romances in the early part of the Twentieth Century, before the appearance of generic science fiction in the American pulps.
It tells of a time traveller's year-long visit to the world half a million years from now, where he encounters a variety of strange scenes and creatures. It is said to have been most influential, following its first appearance, though it is scarcely remembered today. Truth to tell, there are reasons for this. The book appeared in its final form in 1930, but Fowler Wright himself was born in 1874 and his language is distinctly Victorian. In terms of content, he was hugely influenced by Wells. But his sentences tend to be much longer. The lean, modern structures with which Wells put paid to the prose style of the Victorian Era are not found here. The weird scenes are described in language more like that of the 1840s.
In addition, the fact that the time traveller is alone in the future world makes this a novel distinctly light on dialogue. He's supposed to be searching for two previous temporal explorers, who are eventually found to have met sticky ends. By the time this comes to light, however, we've been through so many chapters without their being mentioned that we sense the narrator isn't all that bothered about them. One might wish, though, that at least one of them had been spared, so that the strangeness of what is being discovered might have been discussed, rather than just brooded over. Eventually, our protagonist establishes a telepathic link with one of the inhabitants of the future world, referred to in this book as `My Amphibian.'(When a sequel was written by Brian Stableford, one of the odder touches he added was to give this character a name) Perhaps realistically, Fowler-Wright does not portray telepathy as a mode of discourse that lends itself to snappy one-liners; it's all rather vague, somewhat portentous and, sometimes, a bit too expository.
The villains of the piece, the fiendish `bat-wings' are a race for whom no sympathy is allowed, even when our hero dumps the lot of them in the cooking pot. Like Tolkien's orcs, they're inherently evil and irredeemable. Anyone producing such stuff today would rightly be hooted as a not-so-covert racist or an outright Nazi; Norman Spinrad's Iron Dream has, or should have, so utterly transformed the political perspectives of any right-thinking science fiction or fantasy reader. But this was the dawn of the 1930s. The world was about to learn a horrible lesson in what can happen when a nutter applies such habits of fictional thought to the real world - but it had not leaned that lesson yet. Fowler Wright's works come from a time before we knew how wicked it can be - even in fantasy - to write off a whole race as evil.
The book comes into its own, however, in its descriptive passages. Anyone who wants to trace the art of scenic description in science fiction from Wells to people like Clifford D Simak should have a look at this novel. The half-natural, half-designed landscape and its inhabitants create an atmosphere of alien, decadent beauty:
`Sloping downward, and stretching as far as sight could reach toward the coming sun, was one unbroken plain of purple-brown, on which were growths of one kind only, compact and round and averaging some eight feet in height, like gigantic cabbages in shape and of a very vivid green.'
It is, of course, no surprise that the giant cabbages turn out to be man-eaters! They sprout hideous, tongue like appendages that seek to drag the narrator to his doom. Fowler-Wright is better than most at building up the necessary atmosphere for such outrageousness to work.
Overall, no one who's read Wells is going to think this a great novel but, in and of its time, it is a significant work with many memorable and effective touches. Scholars of SF should certainly give it a go.