on science fiction and being "used" (4/11)

From 1895 to 1941, a period of around 50 years, a notorious science-fiction author published over 70 novels.

It was a ridiculous feat. Jane Friedman, one of the world’s leading voices in the publication industry, claims it typically takes an author around 2-3 years to publish a novel.

But for H.G. Wells, it only took around 7 months to publish his – and he did it over 50 times in a row.

Despite widespread acclaim amongst the masses, however, he still didn’t gain much respect around his peers.

Orwell, a journalist at the time of Wells’ publications, claimed that two-thirds of the novelist’s work had already “ceased to be readable”, and that he couldn’t possibly maintain the quality of his work at such a high yield.

And at a surface level he’s correct. It’s true that Wells is one of the most respected novelists to ever live, but to name more than five of his stories is a practically impossible task.

We may know his name, but we don’t know his work. We may know the words, but we don’t know the meaning behind them.

There’s an old fable by Aesop about a peasant that attempts to cut down a “useless” apple tree in his yard, only to find out that it had been providing shade to the local grasshoppers and sparrows. When he attempts to chop it down, he finds the trunk had been hollowed out by bees, who produced large stores of honey. “The old tree is worth keeping after all,” the peasant concluded.

There’s a Lil Dicky lyric in that same vein, that “if you can’t be used, you’re useless.” If you can’t provide value to other people in their own worlds, you become stagnant, irrelevant.

But even though much of Wells’ work has gone unnoticed to a modern society, the value he’s provided has been immense. As a genre, science fiction has practically developed around his work. The War of the Worlds franchise brought in tens of millions of dollars from films, spinoffs, and radio shows. Former presidents FDR, Hoover, and Harding all turned to the writer for advice on stimulating social evolution.

The value of creation lies not in the quantity or even the quality of the output, but in the community it builds. In the ways that it can be twisted to spark other ideas, other creative endeavors. In the ways that it can be used.

True creativity, regardless of how many books or songs or paintings you finish, shapes not only the narratives of the past – but the possibilities of the future as well.

Spark others – not applause.