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Ranks with H.G. Wells' best science fiction
on 27 July 2009
Published in 1899, "The Sleeper Awakes" comes from Wells most creative and imaginative period of science fiction - the period which produced "The Time Machine", "The Invisible Man", "The War of the Worlds" and "The First Men in the Moon". "The Sleeper Awakes" deserves to be as well known and widely read as these others, as it is easily as good and, possibly, the most imaginative of this group. A man awakes from a 200 year coma and is immediately the centre of a popular revolution. And yet the Utopian society he seems to be at the heart of is not all it seems, and "the sleeper" must decide whether to continue living in a bubble of luxury, or to confront the dark side of the new society.
The picture Wells creates of the future society is remarkably Orwellian in tone and is well drawn. Wells is very prescient in his prediction of television, mass air transport and even the "Pleasure Cities" of Las Vegas and others. There are problems with Wells writing: he doesn't do characterisation very well, and he is not very good at building tension. There is also some clear racism in this book (though it is not clear if this is deliberate to highlight the contrast between Victorian society and the future, or whether it is inherent in the author). Overall though, this is essential reading for Wells fans; for anyone interested in the early development of sci-fi; and for interesting insights into late Victorian society. It easily ranks amongst the best of his early work.